Minister for Tourism, Information and Broadcasting Dr. Ernest Hilaire is in support of a stance taken by the country’s lead tourism marketing agency requesting that the location of a recent homicide incident not be mentioned in the news reports.
Dr. Hilaire was responding to queries from the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) concerning a statement released by the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority (SLTA) requesting the media to not include the name of the location of a June 11, 2023 murder in the northern community.
The minister stated that the action taken by the SLTA was warranted, since the agency is responsible for helping to create a good image of the destination. On the above date, a male individual in his late 30s was gunned down in the Rodney Bay Marina, while he was on bail for firearm possession. At the time of the fatal shooting he was found with an unlicensed firearm in his possession.
In response to the UWP’s perception that the media was being censored, he said, rather, it is the previous administration that has “ill-treated” media workers in the past. The minister singled out media representatives he felt were abused by the former regime.
“There was no respect for the media, and there was so much done to media workers under the previous administration,” declared Dr. Hilaire.
He said the opposition’s behaviour is “most intriguing” and referred to the “brazenness and bizarre way in which they just openly state misinformation and outright inaccuracies”.
Dr. Hilaire states that the media’s role is “to bring (disseminate) information which is unbiased and supposed to be objective to the population”. He contended that “I do not know about how there is censorship” since, neither of his colleagues or himself have “disrespected the media or media workers” nor denied media workers of an opportunity for enlightenment on state issues.
“So, if they want to create this view that there is censorship in the country and repression of the media …this is fictitious and people know that’s not true,” the minister added.
Hilaire said while the previous regime “tried to intimidate the media into writing the way they want you to write” the onus is on the media personnel as professionals to not be intimidated.
He referred to the issue as a matter of trying to preserve the area as a “prime tourism spot” and “the impression being given because of the location where it (homicide) happened… may give the impression that the tourism spot is not safe”.
The minister said that the SLTA made an appeal to the media “to look at the bigger picture and whether or not you want to be able to carry it in that way”, due to the “specificity with which the location is being mentioned”.
He likened the SLTA release as an appeal for consideration in reporting on the case, and “a PR person reaching out to the media and saying, these are the consequences, would you consider not really stating the location so that the ethnicity” would not be tainted.
Hilaire says, he views this as no way of trying “to muzzle or stifle the media” as professional public relations employees take on the role of attempting to manage what has happened or “to manage the impression you give of the country”.
He added, “Every single day we have PR teams around the world that search for any negative stories on Saint Lucia and to be able to address them…and that’s how you manage a destination’s image.”
Taking an overall view of the issue, Dr. Hilaire asserted: “The important thing for me, is that I’m actually glad (to acknowledge) an officer who was proactive to try to manage the image of the destination, which is our beloved country.”