LA phone ban hinders press
(CNS): An unexplained ban on all forms of digital equipment in the public and press galleries of the Legislative Assembly, from mobile phones to lap tops, is making it increasingly difficult for the local media to keep covering the proceedings of the country’s parliament. The leader of the opposition said Friday that the absence of the media in the gallery was of concern and described it as an affront to democracy, when he rose to give his response to the premier’s Strategic Policy Statement and faced an empty press box. The PPM leader said the Legislative Assembly should not be stuck in the Middle Ages and if it was the digital equipment ban that was the obstacle to them covering the parliament then it should be addressed. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)
“This is a deplorable state of affairs,” said Alden McLaughlin as he called publicly on the Speaker to address the situation as well as the House committee, adding that he had raised the issue privately with her and the premier and was aware of letters being written by the media to the Speaker. “We must address it as a matter of urgency.”
McLaughlin pointed to the importance of the media to the business of the Legislative Assembly and their role in communicating the proceedings and the contributions of all members of the elected body to the wider public.
Since the ban was introduced several weeks ago, the media has been making attempts to cover the proceedings, with difficulty, in the reception area of the LA or via the broadcasts on Radio Cayman. A letter was also written to the speaker on behalf of CITN, Radio Cayman, the Caymanian Compass and CNS requesting the speaker to at least reconsider the cell phone and BlackBerry ban.
With most news organisations on Cayman having small teams, very few can afford to have their reporters out of contact with their head office, especially given the erratic nature of the Assembly’s sittings. The meetings can start late, finish suddenly, reconvene, only to adjourn again, or sometimes sit till midnight without any warning.
“Like most journalists I need to be able to keep my phone close by in order to follow other news events that may be happening,” said Wendy Ledger, the only news reporter on CNS.
“Our readers expect more than just LA coverage when they log on to CNS. It’s not possible for me to switch off from everything else that is happening when the House is sitting. As much as we want to ensure we give the public some idea of what their elected representatives are doing, the more difficult it is to cover it the less we will cover.”
The letter from the press was sent to Mary Lawrence on the 12 October and two months later she has still not responded. A request to meet with her last month to try and discuss the matter was denied and Lawrence said she was taking advice on the situation.
CNS also wrote to Lawrence upon her appointment to office more than two years ago, requesting permission for Ledger to use her lap top in the chamber, as previous speakers had allowed reporters to use computers in order to assist them with their coverage, but the two letters have never been answered.
Since the ban, the media has been infrequently present at the actual assembly because covering the proceedings from the reception area is difficult as the sound is poor and the reception area often noisy with the comings and goings of people meeting with MLAs and ministers.
The Speaker appeared not to understand the situation on Friday, despite the correspondence and the comments, as she was under the impression that the press had taken to sitting in the reception because of the “comfortable chairs”. In her response to McLaughlin, she said the press were not banned and that they were present in the reception and that is was “their choice” to sit there.
“This is not true,” Ledger added. “There’s no denying that the seats are certainly softer but most of the local press core has sat on far worse things that the press chairs in the LA. The choice, as the speaker puts it, is nothing more than a Hobson’s choice. It’s not possible for reporters from any modern news organisation to function properly without their phones.”
The Legislative Assembly rarely attracts the public to its proceedings, with no more than a handful of people passing through. Although some people do listen to the entire proceedings on the government owned radio station, most keep up to date with the goings on in the country’s parliament via the various media outlets.
The Legislative Assembly opens at 10am this morning, when the premier will wind up the SPS debate and begin the debates on the latest legislative changes, including the criminal procedure code and the amendments aimed at clamping down on gang violence.
See letter to the Speaker from the press below.
|Letter to Speaker.pdf||148.03 KB|
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