Speaking in the Legislative Assembly on Friday morning, Premier Alden McLaughlin said ‘no’ to a request from the Chamber of Commerce to repeal the government advertising ban. In a statement released last week following the drama generated by the flight of David Legge and his wife, Vicki, allegedly in fear for their lives, the Chamber asked government to reconsider the ban and the impact the situation was having in the international press.
McLaughlin said that, despite what was being said, the issue had nothing to do with free speech or a free press, which he wholeheartedly supported, and the editor of the Compass was free to write what he likes within the boundaries of defamation. But he said the government also had a right to criticise what he wrote when it was a direct insult to the entire country and spend its advertising dollarselsewhere.
The premier said he was disappointed that the Chamber had not condemned the offending editorial that had triggered Legge’s departure and the “histrionics and fabrications that have directly caused the international media stories that give the Chamber Council and me concern”.
Following McLaughlin’s original critical statement and the subsequent decision by Finance Committee to stop spending public cash for adverts in the Compass, the actions of the editor appeared to have angered the premier further.
“Not content with the damage he had done by publishing the editorial in the first place, Mr Legge, that fearless defender of freedom of the press, falsely claimed to have been given police protection by the governor, and departed these shores with his wife in tow because of ‘fears for their personal safety’. He then spent the following week doing the international media circuit seeking to damage the reputation of Cayman further by giving interviews to anyone who would listen to him suggesting that not only was Cayman a place that was corrupt to its core, but that it was also inhabited by a violent people who would have done him real harm had he not fled,” he said.
Pointing to what he said were the paper’s daily attacks on Cayman and the financial services industry, the premier said the Chamber must be concerned by the inferences regarding FIFA and the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority that have no real basis in fact.
McLaughlin committed to protect the freedom of the press.
He said, “I will fight for a free media, but any media house that will fight against my country unjustly to sell newspapers or to swell the ego and the coffers of a publisher while harming Cayman’s reputation is not one that in my view should be subsidised in part by public funds.”
The premier justified the ban on advertising as he said the Finance Committee had called for a ban “on advertising with a publication that is systematically seeking to inflict serious, if not fatal, damage to the reputation of these islands”.
Legge’s message was that “Cayman is a corrupt and violent place inhabited by incompetent and immoral people”, McLaughlin said, adding that he had continued to criticize so it was clear the paper was not being prevented from writing what it wanted, illustrating that this is not a freedom of the press matter.
He said the decision not to advertise with the paper was a “vote not to continue to subsidise a campaign aimed at destroying the economy of the Cayman Islands and the livelihood of its people.”
The premier continued, “The Compass is free to continue to print whatever it wishes. It just will not be subsidised by the taxpayers of this country, who Mr Legge claims are all corrupt.”
The advertising dollar that government previously spent with the Compass, estimated to be worth over $1 million a year, will now “be fairly distributed to other media houses”, he said.
As the premier delivered his speech in the Legislative Assembly on Friday, it is understood that Legge returned to Grand Cayman around lunchtime after more than 11 days in the US. His wife, Vicki Legge, returned to Cayman just a few days after their dramatic departure on 8 June and has been seen around the island with a private security detail. It is not clear if David Legge will be given further police protection or whether he will be footing the bill for his own security or taking his chances on the streets of Grand Cayman.