A response to the Premier: stop it!

  • Premier attacks Royal Gazette

  • If only he had bitten his lip: the unsubstantiated aspersions that David Burt, the Premier, cast on The Royal Gazette during a speech in the House of Assembly on Friday are equally as harmful as the damage he believes the newspaper has caused over the sudden about-turn made by a suspiciously unnamed company whose advertisement to attract Bermudian workers was effectively repurposed from a government-run public domain to one where a brighter, more intrusive light could be shone (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    If only he had bitten his lip: the unsubstantiated aspersions that David Burt, the Premier, cast on The Royal Gazette during a speech in the House of Assembly on Friday are equally as harmful as the damage he believes the newspaper has caused over the sudden about-turn made by a suspiciously unnamed company whose advertisement to attract Bermudian workers was effectively repurposed from a government-run public domain to one where a brighter, more intrusive light could be shone (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

There is no doubt that David Burt is the greatest orator of our times. Coincidentally, he is also the Premier of Bermuda, the leader of the country, a position that carries with it great power. The power to move mountains, the power to sway opinion and the power to get the unimaginable done.

But with great power and with the gift of gab come great responsibility, yet we are afraid that the Eloquently Spoken and Chosen One has dropped a massive clanger here in attempting to portray this particular media as the enemy of the people.

Where have we heard that before?

It may be true that a company that has no name wanted to do business in Bermuda. It may be true that said company wished to create six jobs for Bermudians. And it may be true that this company with no name has turned around and run whence it came with its tail between its legs. All because it was subjected to the oldest profession known to man — the media.

Who in their right mind cannot believe there is something suspicious about this very sudden about-face?

But, wait, let’s backtrack to the genesis of this story, which has been bizarre from start to end, prompted by a posting on the Job Board advertising for positions in the sports-trading sector. The hirer? An unnamed company.

So, bizarre right out of the gates.

We spotted this, found it to be out of the ordinary and then made inquiries, none of which in any way can be said to be as devious or malicious as the Premier made out in what can be described only as petulant grandstanding.

The conversations went something like this:

RG: “Hello, we have seen this posting on the Job Board and would like to know who your company is and what it is about?”

Recruiter: “I am not authorised to speak on this but I can put you in touch with someone who can.”

RG: “Thank you.”

RG: “Hello, I have been given your name as the principal of a company wishing to do business in Bermuda. Could you tell us what you do and what your plans are in Bermuda?”

Principal: “We are a private company and wish no stories written about us.”

End of conversation, with nary a moment of animosity.

But let’s be clear here, that last request was and is an absolute non-starter in the world of journalism. The decision to publish or not publish is wholly ours to make, and we do so with great thought, care and judgment.

What resulted was the most anodyne of business stories, which — without much assistance from the company with no name — was effectively an extended regurgitation of a Job Board advertisement that has been since which deleted.

No private affairs released, as the Premier suggested in his carefully scripted 13½ minutes of scaremongering.

For those still trying to get their heads around this, and who have not already overdosed on the “Hate the RG” pill that Burt dished out in Jonestown fashion, we repeat that story in its entirety and challenge anyone of sound mind to conclude that it and it alone could force a company that apparently had planned its operations here six months in advance to suddenly run in the opposite direction as though it had seen a ghost:

Headline: “Company seeks six sports-trading operators”

Six Bermudians are to be hired as “sports-trading operators” by an international algorithmic trading company which is setting up an office on the island.

The jobs are advertised on the Department of Workforce Development’s Bermuda Job Board.

Successful applicants, the ad says, will work five shifts a week, mostly during the evenings from 5pm to midnight. Shifts will include weekends and public holidays as the company operates seven days a week. Hirees will “undergo in-depth training on the systems and processes which will be used” with training to take place “overseas at the head office”.

Once trained, the ad says, employees’ key responsibilities will include “monitoring live events and processing data in real time, monitoring the automated systems, following defined escalation procedures when issues occur, supporting other group operational teams located around the world”.

Applicants, the ad says, “must have a healthy dose of common sense, a great attitude, attention to detail and the ability to concentrate on the task at hand, irrespective of background noise and activity”.

The ad also calls for applicants with “strong computer/digital skills and basic numeric skills”. Shortlisted candidates, the ad says, “will undergo a thorough background check as well as attitude and computer-skills testing”.

Interested parties are asked to reply in writing to consulting firm Performance Solutions Ltd, which is assisting with the recruitment process.

Kelly Francis, founder and president of Performance Solutions, referred inquiries to UK-based spokesman Mike Richards, who declined to provide details about the nature of the business.

“We are a private organisation,” he said. “We have used a recruiter, Kelly Francis, and we have utilised lawyers to help us to set up there, which we are in the process of doing.

“We’re not one that wants stories being written about us. We don’t advertise our brand.”

That final statement removed any doubt over whether the story should be published because there can be few companies in the world who do not advertise their brand.

Curiouser and curiouser. Bermuda may be another world, but it is surely not Alice’s Wonderland.

So back to the foundations on which the Premier threatened, no “promised”, to ensure the people of Bermuda do not ever forget the role The Royal Gazette played in the company with no name bailing out.

With at best only second-hand information on what had transpired between the reporter and the company principal, Burt managed to mouth “crystal clear”.

Throw in for good measure, in his blatantly obvious attempt at character assassination, “clear, malicious intent”, “political mission”, “brazen”, “unprofessional”.

Really? Where is the evidence of this?

The Premier is right to feel aggrieved because fintech is his baby, an industry that may yet define his legacy, but he is clearly wrong to point the finger at 2 Par-la-Ville Road when, quite obviously instead, there is more to this company’s change of heart than meets the eye.

For starters, someone during the alleged six-month courtship could have informed the company with no name that we operate a free press in this country, not a state-run press.

We are more government watchdog than we are government cheerleaders — CITV was created for that purpose.

We are not sitting on our hands waiting on government press releases and press conferences or for the Government and its acolytes to tell us what is or is not news, and where in the newspaper or on the website that news should be placed. Yet we get that all the time — from this government and the last.

Which raises the point about Burt’s utterly ridiculous and frankly specious claims that we are in cahoots with the One Bermuda Alliance.

Such nonsense makes for good populist politics but is as near to the truth as Oracle Team USA were to the backwash of a progressive Emirates Team New Zealand, and exposes the first cracks to be seen in the previously unblemished veneer of the country’s youngest premier.

Jeanne Atherden, for one, must have fallen out of her chair laughing upon hearing this. She has taken more stick than any Opposition leader in memory, deservedly, and her party was in such a shambles before the resurrection of Craig Cannonier stopped the bleeding that each day presented another opportunity for the media to gorge itself at the trough amid a feeding frenzy.

We are in the “call it as we see it” industry, not “call it as we are shown it”. And what we see is uncertainty.

Uncertainty over taxes — name your tax, sugar tax, payroll tax, rental tax, and many more that may be announced in Friday’s Budget Statement.

Uncertainty over fintech, especially with the hub being put on hold.

Uncertainty over the credibility of those who wish to do business on our shores.

Uncertainty over the future of casino gambling.

And, more recently, uncertainty over a course of action that has our municipalities up in arms. (The Government was at pains over the weekend to state that the proposed subsuming of the corporations of Hamilton and St George is under consultation only.)

Now, more on Burt and his petulant display, which was probably too much on the eloquent side to be termed a rant.

His claim that we are determined for fintech to fail does not stand up to scrutiny. We have done numerous stories on start-ups. Not just recycling press releases, but speaking with the entrepreneurs behind the companies to let the public know about how they are trying to transform industries and build businesses in Bermuda.

Examples include Extraordinary Re, Laureate Digital, DrumG Technologies, ConsenSys and BoxBit. No other news media have gone to such lengths. Why would we do that if we wanted them all to fail?

We have given Burt himself a platform to talk about how the Government’s digital ID initiative ties in with the efforts to make Bermuda a leader in fintech, an opportunity he embraced.

His claim that we believe the Bermuda Monetary Authority and the Registrar of Companies don’t know how to do background checks is nonsense.

We have obviously never stated that, nor have we quoted anyone else saying it, although our commenters might have aired this notion.

We’ve given the BMA overwhelmingly favourable exposure over the years, particularly coverage of its successful six-year effort to gain Solvency II third-country equivalence.

If what the Premier is saying is that we are presenting facts that raise doubts about companies such as Arbitrade and numerous judgments in civil cases against the founder of Uulala, the first company to gain a Bermuda licence for an initial coin offering, then why should we not do that?

As the Government’s own fintech adviser, Denis Pitcher, has warned, Bermuda must not allow itself to become “Scam Island”.

The island’s reputation has taken decades to build and could be wrecked by one bad actor.

The Government itself has said it will not allow Bermuda’s blue-chip reputation to be harmed and that its digital-asset regulations are rigorous. If this is true, then it should welcome our scrutiny. And if what we have printed is not true, then it should say so.

He accused us of “disregard for facts” while not pointing to a single factual error. We have more regard for facts than politicians who try to twist them for their own ends.

In a Trumpian way, he is trying to portray us an enemy of the people. Attacks on the media by politicians are to be expected, especially when they are trying to deflect attention from other news that does not reflect well on them.

This, too, is no ad hominem attack, or one against the PLP, but if you are going to ask us who we are going to trust — the albeit eloquently well-spoken Premier of Bermuda spouting falsehoods and innuendos from a bully pulpit in the House of Assembly or an earnest journalist of integrity doing their job at a pittance of a Cabinet minister’s salary — we’re going to take the earnest journalist.

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Published Feb 18, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 19, 2019 at 9:06 am)

A response to the Premier: stop it!

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