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 Bahamas Commentary

2006-01-16 20:40:22

Crime, Tourism and The Press

Tribune editor questions the wisdom of supressing crime news as suggested by the Minsitry of Tourism and the Bahamas Police.

Last week the Ministry of Tourism hosted its third National Tourism Conference that dealt with many subjjects related to tourism and the ways in which the industry can be expanded and improved.

During the conference the media was urged to be more cautious in reporting because negative reports about the Bahamas are published worldwide. These reports, it was said, had far-reaching affects on tourism in this country. The request to soft-pedal the news was made by both the Ministry of Tourism and a spokesman for the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

It was unclear whether They meant that a story involving a tourist should be buried on the back page or whether it should not be published at all. Still this might have been a plea to drop all crime reports from its columns.

In discussing the subject of "safety and security" it was pointed out that the media plays a major role in a potential tourist's perception of the country.

"People will generally assume we're safe,, and it only changes when something happens and someone tells them otherwise," said tourism director general Vernice Walkine.

What we read into this comment is that if the press stopped publishing crime reports - especially those involving tourists - the Bahamas' reputation as a crime free destination would remain intact. In other words the press would not have informed them that - like every country in the world today - the Bahamas hit its share of crime and that they should take precautions, particularly in certain areas.

This is a most dangerous position to take. Obviously Ms Walkine is too young to remember the furore caused some years ago when a tourist was lulled into a false sense of security about the Bahamas' safety, took no extra precautions and walked late at night the short distance between two Cable Beach hotels. He was mugged and robbed. We don't remember all the details, but believe he was connected with a branch of the American police force. This was before the lights went up on the Cable Beach strip. It was because of the serious fall-out from this incident that Cable Beach was quickly lighted.

This gentleman was horrified to learn how many times such incidents along this strip had gone unreported, and how often government talked about, but did nothing to erect lights to make the area safer for pedestrians. This was the era when police officers refused to include crimes against tourists in their police reports - in fact they suppressed most serious crime. It was a mental attitude that we fought then and which we now see trying again to insinuate itself through the back door - all in the name of protecting tourism: After about 50 years of experience at this news desk we assure the ministry and the police that this is indeed a step backwards. If implemented it will lead to a worse news disaster than the ones they are now trying to avoid.

This particular tourist chastised the Bahamas about its false advertising as to the paradise-like safety of these islands, and on his return to the United States took out full page advertisements in three prestigious US newspapers - we believe The New York Times was one - warning about the dangers of the Bahamas.

His argument was that a fully informed visitor was better able to enjoy a holiday without an unpleasant incident if he knew what precautions to take. He condemned the government for suppressing the information.

This attitude also had a serious local fallout. The public accused the press of suppressing the news. However, when told that it was not The Tribune, but the police doing the suppressing, members of the public became their own reporters. They started to telephone in daily crime reports from their areas.
The columns of this newspaper were not only filled with crime, but, instead of the sketchy information from the police blotter, which was generally error-ridden, we had first hand interviews of some pretty gruesome tales from rape, abductions to murder. They were stories far worse than the police would have ever given.

Members of the public were incensed that the police would withhold information that they felt they should know in order to protect themselves. If the police want to be trusted by the public, then this is the last path they should ever think of walking down again - even in the name of tourism.

Police are upset about a report published in The Tribune about a tourist allegedly being robbed at Arawak Cay. This was a report that quoted a caller to radio Love 97's talk show. Details of the robbery were given. by the caller, who claimed to be an eyewitness. However, although a robbery did take place, it did not take place at Arawak Cay. Instead it was at Long Wharf when a visiting husband and wife were returning to their cruise ship. The caller to the radio station, if the police version is correct, had obviously exaggerated the story. However, having not seen a report in the press, he was obviously anxious to let the public know what-was happening to visitors to this country. If the police had given the report out in the first place, this caller might not have taken the initiative to phone the radio station. (See full story).

The conference also took as a "case-in-point" the "negative media perception" of the Paul Gallagher case.

We shall deal with this subject in this column tomorrow.

Source:  Editorial from The Tribune - Nassau, Bahamas

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