The reporting of crime has always been a controversial issue.
Media houses are often accused of sensationalizing the scourge we all wish to kill.
The fact remains that it is the duty of journalists to keep the public well informed about all that is taking place around them, however unpleasant, so long as accuracy, fairness and transparency remain the bedrock of their practice.
It is for this very reason that local journalists who were alerted to a security message issued by the United States Embassy in Bridgetown on November 9, were left baffled.
The advisory warned American citizens of “a recent surge of robberies involving the use of firearms and high levels of violence.”
Unfortunately, no matter how we may be tempted to protect the image of this tourism dependent economy, we are all too aware of the recent spate of armed robberies, so we have no quarrel with that.
But what raised a red flag was the citing of reports in the said advisory of “groups of men attempting to lure vehicles into stopping, by pretending to have vehicle troubles or by placing a baby in a car seat by the side of the road, and then beating and robbing the vehicles’ occupants.”
The unconfirmed incidents had been making the rounds on social media for some time, and were dismissed by local law enforcement as nothing more than a hoax.
Said the Royal Barbados Police Force via its Facebook page, “We have NOT RECEIVED any reports or information to suggest that the mentioned activities ever occurred,” as it advised persons in possession of such information to contact the Force before circulating.
So where did the reputable US Embassy get its information, and did it even verify it with local authorities before issuing its security message?
Such has the potential to not only tarnish the country’s image but deter visitors from a major source market who are finally returning to our shores in their numbers.
What was the hurry that led US officials to transmit inaccurate information?
There is something wrong about one country issuing such alerts against another in a knee-jerk fashion, which is what the United States has been doing for some considerable period now.
Seemingly, the department has a template which it pulls out whenever it perceives there is trouble in so-called Third World countries.
Moreover, it’s an insensitive move, especially given that Washington and Bridgetown are close allies.
No doubt the USA, like any other sovereign state, has a right to protect its nationals, and if issuing travel advisories is the best way to do so, it cannot be faulted.
Nevertheless, it must do so with all the facts from our law enforcers who are sworn to serve and protect.
Barbados, after all, is not any more dangerous than any US city. The crime statistics will bear out this fact.
But what’s of even more concern is the deafening silence from the usual suspects who never fail to remind the media that their reporting of crime and the like paints a negative picture, and is damaging to our bread and butter industry.
So will US officials be held accountable?
Who will step up and demand answers and, even more so, a retraction from the US Embassy? Or is the Embassy big enough to admit it got it wrong?
Now may be the time for Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite to defend his country’s honour and reprimand the Americans for their unfair actions, even as tourism officials presumably pursue damage control. A clear message should be sent to Washington to rethink its unfriendly strategy and always to get its facts straight. ?