Letters & Opinion

Getting it write (about Sandals)

By Al Edwards

RECENTLY, the Detroit free press has run a series of articles on the issue of sexual assault at hotels and resorts in Jamaica, and while the story is a critical one, having read some of the reports I fear that in haste, or for some other reason, the media house has ended up doing great injustice to not only a number of world-renowned hotel brands, but to the people of the Caribbean.

What makes it worse is that other news organisations have simply picked up and regurgitated said stories without asking the relevant questions that all journalists must ask.

The issue has also been exacerbated by the way the information is presented, heavily slanted toward the sensational and as a result a number of resorts such as Sandals, Hilton, Riu, Holiday Inn, Amresorts, etc., have been hung-out to dry.

Sadly, this has become a symptom of mainstream media trying to outdo and compete with the unfiltered ‘stream’ that flows on social media, but that does not mean we should simply shrug off the collateral damage that is left in the wake of this struggle, and for which individuals, and in this case these companies, have to endure.

Here’s an example; the story first broke on November 7th about two women reportedly being attacked at hotel Riu reggae in Montego Bay. This was alleged to have occurred in September 2018, which prompted an analysis of state department warnings about sexual assaults at holiday establishments in Jamaica. But although the incident took place at hotel Riu, the author,TresaBaldas, chose to use a three year old incident at Sandals which became the headline focus of her very serious piece. I suppose Sandals makes much better reading than Riu because of its high visibility.

However the danger of this approach was apparent barely two days later, when the Chicago tribune picked up on her story, and apparently reading only the first few lines ran a headline suggesting that the reported September 2018 assaults took place at Sandals instead of Riu!!

Not only that, the style used by the writer and obviously endorsed by the Detroit free press was one that tried, convicted and sought to punish Sandals without even hearing what the resort had to say.

This is how that story starts: “ In a dark laundry room at a Jamaican Sandals Resort, pinned to the floor by a hotel lifeguard, a Michigan teenage girl lay paralyzed with fear as the man bit her lip and raped her, violently robbing her of her virginity.” I cannot even comprehend such a wicked and cruel act. It chills my bones. But having read it, it forms a preconceived notion in one’s mind involving the attack and the resort – the author has prejudiced with that one sentence, my considering for a moment this might not have been what happened.

It was repeated in another story a few weeks later. Baldas wrote, ““She woke up on the shower floor crying and naked — choke marks on her neck, scratches on her body. The 18-year-old au pair vacationing in Jamaica had no idea how she wound up in a bathroom near the pool until hours later: She had been drugged and raped, she said, and the resort did nothing to help her.”

This time it was at beaches, a sandals family resort, this particular company seeming to hold a special place as the headline of choice for the author. However what was not made clear is that this incident involved two guests – not any hotel employee or caribbean citizen – and that Sandals has flagged it as inaccurate indicating that it has evidence to the contrary ever since this appeared on tripadvisor.

But the damage has already been done.

Even the trainee reporter in any rural newsroom knows to stick to the facts. Sensationalism has time and time again been empirically proven as a tool to influence audience and promote agendas and we must be aware of the dangers of ‘yellow journalism’.

Let me be clear; I am not discouraging Ms Baldas or her media house from embarking on this investigation. I support such an investigation. However, I believe in the convention and sanctity of balance.

Balance and fairness are at the heart of what the media does, guided by ethics, and a journalist should strive for accuracy and truth in their reporting, they should never slant a story so that a reader draws the reporter’s desired conclusion. ethics is the foundation of this profession. The reporter has the responsibility to interact/observe objectively, and then report the facts and observations to the public, not push them deep into the piece where a reader may never see them. Such deviation constitutes willful deception.

The Toronto City news then picks up on the story and proceeds to give a checklist highlighting the dangers of travelling to not only Jamaica, but several other Caribbean Islands warning that you can be exposed to spiked drinks and food and assault.

It prompted one commentator from anguilla to question where the author got the information from to construct such allegations, saying that such a case would have certainly been highlighted and he/she was unaware of any such story, but the result is that all suspicious eyes were on anguilla no matter how hard the hospitality sector there may be working.

Look, if you want to talk statistics, then in Detroit alone the murder rate is 8.7 times the national average while the assault rate is 4.7 times the national average. Not to take away from the seriousness of this, my point is that the reporting on the issue has offered a wide brush, resulting in a lopsided picture.

For instance, while the state department reports that 78 Americans were raped in the seven years leading up to 2017, not all, or certainly most of those assaults did not take place at resorts. in an editorial of December 3rd the Jamaica gleaner acknowledged that the government has to deal with the issue, but made the point that it cannot be discounted that some of the cases against hotel employees may be fabrications or exaggerated claims to mask behavioral lapses or other motives, from persons who want to hold resorts to ransom. Allowing such persons a platform to hurl uninvestigated and unsubstantiated claims will only encourage others who wish to pull a similar shakedown, and that creates a greater problem.

By painting a picture of Caribbean nationals waiting in hiding among hotel staff to pounce on unsuspecting visitors is not only sensational, it is callous. And if we are to deal with facts we must also note that in response, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett has stated that in that same seven-year period Jamaica has welcomed 20 million visitors, with one of the world’s highest repeat visitor rate; over 42%.

On the 2017 destination satisfaction index (DSI)Barbados placed number one in the world, beating out places like seychelles, Mexico etc. This rating is determined by interviewing over 70,000 travelers around the world giving feedback on 20 categories.

For its part Sandals (the resort most highlighted in these reports) was awarded world’s leading all-inclusive company for the 23rd year in a row, and beaches resort won world’s leading family resort at the recent world travel awards, while Jamaica copped the award for world’s leading beach destination.

Now I am not suggesting at all that winning awards makes you incident-free; all I am saying is that we strive for balance rather than painting a picture of Caribbean Resort workers as all potential criminals, and of resorts and governments in some big scam to cover things up. It is in the interest of resorts and destinations to deal with any problem involving sexual assault. covering it up does not make it go away.

Which brings up the issue of professionalism.

Media involves not only the knowledge gained through experience, but also the knowledge acquired through formal training that helps instruct and inform the journalist on the best and most efficient way to execute his/her duty, and gain the most out of the experience. In other words, whereas certain questions need to be asked when covering a story (‘who did it?’, ‘what happened?’, ‘where?’, ‘why?’ etc.), the same questions may first need to be answered by the reporter himself, about covering the story (‘who is the best source of information?’, ‘what angle am I taking?’, ‘where else is this story leading to?’, ‘why is this important to my audience?’, etc).

This I believe is where journalism breaks down, and where ‘reporting’ simply on what you hear begins …and all the attendant problems with it.If we want this problem to go away, let’s strive for good reporting …and not simply good ratings. (Loop news jamaica)

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