The COVID-19 crisis has been a double-edged sword for the local and global media.
This is as much evident in Cayman as it is in other countries. The press thrives on news but is driven by business. That’s the bottom line.
That ‘business’ comes from advertising in its various iterations from both the private sector and government.
The media, the necessary Fourth Estate in any progressive society, traditionally assumes the vital role of informing, educating and entertaining.
The modern media is required to go beyond that and function as a conduit between the government and the governed, the business sector and its customers and clients, and to function as a forum for society to interact with itself.
Nowhere has this been more evident that the Cayman Islands governments COVID-19 updates.
And one topic which brought all of the above to the fore was the exchange between the local media and CIG over the Workforce Opportunities Residency Cayman (WORC) agency.
Participating remotely in one of the press briefings, a WORC team, led by Deputy Director Jeremy Scott, shared with the community via the media, how their unit has been functioning to realise its vision of “Leading the pursuit of full Caymanian employment and economic prosperity for all through service excellence.”
The focus on jobs for Caymanians is laudable and becomes even more necessary in the current COVID-constrained economic environment.
It’s must be all hands on deck to make sure WORC works because if WORC works, then Caymanians get work, ideally first.
It is that all hands on deck aspect that itself seems to require some work. And that’s where the media and government come into the picture together.
The pellucidly clear fact is that WORC will struggle to truly realise its potential for Cayman, unless the media is fully engaged - not just reporting on its efforts in placing Caymanians in work, but as a business partner.
It was very refreshing and encouraging to hear Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin espousing his love for media, especially the printed media in this case, during a revealing exchange about WORC and where it places its job advertisements.
Amidst the probing questions and well-informed answers by the WORC’s Deputy Director Scott and his team, it was clear that WORC and the media need to work closer together on a business footing.
The department reported that since it (re)launched last year, 1,355 job seekers had registered as of June 1st 2020 with 83% of them being Caymanians.
It further reported that 1,097 employers had registered on the site and successfully advertised 1,697 jobs.
In the current economic environment, based on anecdotal evidence, that is a drop in the bucket of WORC’s potential, notwithstanding the government’s laudable efforts with the Ready-2-Work and Passport-2-Success schemes.
This where a truly joined-up efforts between government and media across all platforms can derive that mutually beneficial ‘win-win’ objective.
Cayman’s business community has undeniably taken body blow as a direct result of COVID-19.
Some businesses have been struggling to keep their heads above water and for many others, especially those reliant on tourism, their future seems uncertain at best.
Ditto the media, recognised by the government as an essential service worthy of curfew exemptions at the height of the lockdown when the government’s Curfew Time was flooded with around 19,000 requests.
It’s said where’s there no vision the people perish. Heaven forfend the absence of ‘a media presence’.
In response to a question of concern about the real challenges facing the business base of the media in Cayman, the Premier ventured into a long-settled debate about the future of, especially the printed media, in the face of digital online technology.
The matter being discussed was the impact on local media revenues of government advertising, which has been massively scaled back.
Premier McLaughlin was partly right when he said: “I think more innovative means will have to be found to ensure that it (media) can be funded by consumers.”
Indeed the media including the press -printed and online - must explore innovative ways to generate business.
Funded by consumers as proposed by Premier McLaughlin might be debatable. Newspaper are increasingly distributing free but are heavily supported by business advertising.
Those focused on uploading their content online are finding out that in some markets, paywalls and other forms of subscriptions are a challenge.
But the Premier misses the point when he suggests: “I don’t think that’s something the government can fix without it being perceived that the government is controlling media.”
The issue is not government subsidy of the independent media. In fact, most media owner would frown at that prospect as compromising their editorial independence (Mr McLaughlin would agree), and the business manager would at best scoff at such a suggestion.
Caymanian Times publisher Ralph Lewis was on point with this observation regarding the WORC job advertising issue:
“The timing of the changes has put a damper on the effort of the private sector, in this case our business, to operate. However, I do believe that there is a way of getting things done and we are already looking into strategies of how we could diversify our revenue sources to make sure that there is free media is in Cayman whether in print or online.”
In this respect, what the press/media wants is freedom (not just press/editorial freedom), but freedom to compete on a level playing field as a business.
It’s an accepted norm the world over, and legislated in many places, that governments advertise certain services in the media.
Government should not even be seen to compete with businesses but regulate them and create than 'enabling environment' for them to compete and grow.
It's good for the economy. It's good for society.