By DIANE ABBOTT:
THERE was yet another depressing story about Jamaica in the British media last week. It featured in the evening news bulletin of BBC Radio. The news item began by mentioning that next year is the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's Independence. But it went on to suggest that any Jamaicans foolish enough to return home for Independence in 2012 risked being murder victims.
The news reporter said that over a thousand people returned to Jamaica every year. The source of that exact figure is a mystery. He went on to say that in the past decade 350 returning residents had been murdered and the possibility of being killed was "casting a cloud" over people thinking of returning home in 2012.
The reporter did point out that tourists hardly ever got attacked in Jamaica. But this fact would not have been much consolation to tourists of a nervous disposition who happened to be listening to the programme.
The news report went on to say that most returning residents flew into Norman Manley Airport in Kingston and that there was a network of criminals at the airport who targeted people visiting Jamaica and followed them. The programme implied that these criminals were often working in collusion with policemen and soldiers.
The programme also interviewed victims of crime and Mark Shields, former Scotland Yard detective who was appointed deputy commissioner of police in Jamaica in 2005 on secondment. He left the Jamaica Constabulary Force after a few years and is currently managing director of Shields Crime Security Consultants Limited on the island.
Percival La Touche, a long-time champion of returnees was also interviewed, and claimed that there was no plan to protect returning residents.
Crime is a serious issue in Jamaica, and the death of any Jamaican, returning resident or not, is a tragedy. But I was disappointed that the programme mentioned, only in passing, that violent crime overall has dropped in Jamaica and there has been a 25 per cent drop in the murder rate this year.
It was a programme designed to frighten anyone who was thinking of visiting Jamaica. I have worked for years to try and improve the image of Jamaica in the media. And I was depressed that on the one hand it is such a struggle to get anything positive about Jamaica in the newspapers and on television, but on the other hand these kinds of negative items easily obtain prominence.
We do not know when the next general election will be and we certainly do not know which party will be the victor. But whoever leads Jamaica in the future, the fight against crime will have to be a top priority. Fear of crime does not just have the potential to frighten off returning residents. Crime is also frightening tourists and potential investors.
However, I deplore the tendency of the British media to present only the negative side of Jamaica. I sometimes think that it is a testimony to the loyalty of Jamaicans living overseas and the excellence of Jamaica's tourism product that anyone ever visits Jamaica at all.
Diane Abbott is the British Labour Party's shadow public health minister
Sunday, November 27, 2011