Editorial | Ed Bartlett’s tourism folly
Edmund Bartlett is not the first person in his seat with a jaundiced perspective of the press and to offer duplicitous advice on how to do its job, including voluntarily censoring itself, which frees the State of contemplating that nasty business.
In the 1980s when gunmen robbed guests at a Montego Bay hotel, the late Anthony Abrahams, then the tourism minister in Edward Seaga's government, and not yet back to his old role as journalist, worked himself into a blather over the fact that the press had reported it. He feared doom for the tourism industry. Three and a half decades later, with the global media landscape much changed, Mr Bartlett, an alumnus of that Seaga Cabinet, is vintage, of the era. As tourism minister, he wants the free press to suppress news about crime in the hope of bolstering tourism,
"... In a Third World country like Jamaica, where tourism continues to be the engine of growth, it is not unreasonable to expect the media to be a responsible partner where there is balance as it relates to how crime is covered and the type of descriptive language that is used to highlight the problem," Mr Bartlett said in a speech at the weekend.
There is no misconstruing the minister's intent as Mr Bartlett feared would be the case: not that "I am trying to muzzle the press or I am trying to prevent media from carrying out its duties ... . No, not at all." Not at all! He is trying to have the media do it to themselves.
This newspaper is not unsympathetic to Mr Bartlett's concerns. Tourism grosses about J$2 billion annually and is Jamaica's second largest earner of foreign exchange after remittances. It accounts for around eight per cent of GDP and employs 30,000 people. It is an important segment of the Jamaican economy.
But Edmund Bartlett glosses over other pertinent facts. Crime is the most serious of Jamaica's problems. At the current trajectory, there will be more than 1,600 homicides in Jamaica this year for a murder rate of approximately 60 per 100,000, or a 19 per cent jump over 2016. Already, Jamaica's murder rate places it in the top three in the global league table for homicides. Indeed, as explained by University of the West Indies (UWI) social anthropologist Herbert Gayle, based on the established criteria expected of countries in civil war, Jamaica, this year, is heading for twice that ratio.
Won't change reality
Keeping these facts off the front pages of newspapers or the top of newscasts in electronic media, as Mr Bartlett wants the press to do, won't change their reality and is only likely, at best, to give the country a false sense of security. In a way, it would be lying by omission on the part of the media.
For while it is true that crime against tourists is relatively low in Jamaica, that, in part, is the result of a big chunk of luck. Last week, on a busy street in the heart of Montego Bay, at high noon, gunmen with rifles opened fire on a car transporting a man who had just left a court proceeding. It is fortuitous that tourists were not caught in the crossfire.
There are three things that Mr Bartlett should remember. Not reporting a crime or failing to do so prominently doesn't mean it didn't happen. Nor does it reduce fear in the society. Second, silence by mainstream media don't limit the global transmission of such information. The advent of new technologies, the growth of social media, and the low entry barrier give the citizen journalist access to a global audience. More critically, it is not the media's hiding of crime that will ultimately dictate its impact on Jamaica's tourism, but the efficacy of government policies for dealing with what is a crisis.