Interfering with the right to report the news

  • Gaming expert: Richard Schuetz

When the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission declared war on Richard Schuetz, it rather intentionally did the same with the media as well.

It is one thing to gag a former employee whose tenure has ended amid great controversy and who now falls outside our jurisdiction; quite another to attempt to limit free speech and public access to information while operating off the taxpayers’ dime.

But that is what happened in the Chief Justice’s chambers on Wednesday, closed to members of the public and the media, when the commission successfully obtained an injunction that included as the last of five notices to the defendant: “Any other person who knows of this order and does anything which helps or permits the respondent to breach the terms of this order may also be held in contempt of court and may be imprisoned, fined or have their assets seized.”

That, even to the modestly educated, has to be taken as a thinly veiled threat to the media — and more so to The Royal Gazette. It is not a threat to be taken lightly because of the dangerous precedent that it sets. And we wait to hear if, in fact, that was a coded warning.

Schuetz has been very outspoken in his criticisms of Bermuda, the Government and others involved in the betting industry on this island. Hired for his unrivalled expertise, it all turned pear-shaped relatively early when he discovered local politicians’ penchant for being control freaks and for having assorted vested interests.

As previously reported in his resignation letter on the day of the General Election, he hit out at everyone, saying effectively that this country lacked the will or the ability to effectively regulate the casino gaming industry, and that we should consider ditching the idea altogether.

Shortly after the election provided the Progressive Labour Party with a landslide victory, the knives came out for Schuetz’s allies and Alan Dunch was unceremoniously hounded out of his job as commission chairman.

No genuine excuses could be found or were given, the most plausible being that he was a political appointee by a group that no longer ran the country. What followed were more resignations and the appointment of Cheryl-Ann Mapp as Dunch’s successor.

With the public funding the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, the public have a right to know what is going on — especially when the implications for the Bermuda economy and reputation are far-reaching.

In any acrimonious divorce, the devil is in the details, and we would be doing the public a disservice if those details slipped into the abyss created by this legal action.

If the commission, and the Bermuda Government by extension, is allowed to get away with this, it would shut down free speech and prevent former public servants from ever speaking out about potential wrongdoing.

That cannot be right and so we will continue to fight.

Three years ago we fought feverishly and successfully for the right for the media to be granted access to sworn affirmations from developer Michael MacLean and government ministers in relation to the Hamilton waterfront deal.

That access was granted by the very same learned Chief Justice, Ian Kawaley, and this case is no less important.

We have not always seen eye to eye with Richard Schuetz, but he remains internationally respected in the casino gaming industry and we remain more than interested in anything he has to say.