'Do They Think We're Stupid?'
by Sally Erdle
When my sister and I were little and quarrelled with each other, my father would sometimes lose all patience with us and, driven past the point of caring who was right and who was wrong, exclaim "I feel like cracking both your heads together!"
There's a conflict going on now which has triggered the same reaction in more than one observer. But the ramifications of this fight are infinitely more serious than those of any childhood spat. At stake is a vote which many feel will, once and for all time, decide the issue of whether whales will continue to be thought of as a manageable food resource or ultimately attain the status of an untouchable treasure.
An article by Canute James which appeared in the international Financial Times newspaper of 23 May 2001 explains that several Eastern Caribbean countries "are being actively courted by the anti-whaling and pro-whaling lobbies, to get votes for [July's] meeting in London of the International Whaling Commission. The meeting will again consider a contentious proposal by Australia and New Zealand to establish a whale sanctuary, a measure voted down at the IWC meeting in Australia last year."
The courting of the Caribbean certainly has been active, and the rival suitors have both behaved badly, recently and in the past, using dubious vote-recruiting methods, bad-mouthing each other and - perhaps worst of all - displaying a lack of respect for the intelligence of the public whose opinion they're trying to win to their side.
A submission made by the governments of Australia and New Zealand to the IWC meeting held in Grenada in 1999 stated that "a South Pacific Sanctuary is needed in order to protect severely depleted whale stocks and allow their recovery; complement and improve the effectiveness of the [existing] Southern Ocean sanctuary in protecting migratory whale species; allow for and foster research on whale stocks that are not being harvested; and manage whale stocks with the long-term conservation of biodiversity." This position is supported by what James terms the "anti-whaling lobby".
The "pro-whaling lobby" endorses the opinion of William T. Burke, a Professor of Law at the University of Washington, USA, who disagrees with the sanctuary proposal, saying that the essential purpose of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the treaty upon which the IWC is founded, is "to provide for the conservation of whales in order to permit continued harvests. The adoption of an indefinite prohibition of all commercial whaling in the South Pacific [the intent of the sanctuary proposal], despite the known abundance of particular stocks, is inconsistent with this purpose."
Furthermore, he says that even if the establishment of a South Pacific sanctuary were consistent with the Convention's objectives, it is not necessary, for two reasons: "The first is that the Commission already has in place a moratorium on the commercial harvest of whales that applies in the South Pacific as well as elsewhere the purposes allegedly served by the proposed sanctuary are achievable within the context of the moratorium.
"The second reason a South Pacific sanctuary is unnecessary is that when the moratorium is terminated, it would be because the Commission has already approved and will have implemented a Revised Management Scheme and Procedure that will satisfactorily protect all whale stocks in the South Pacific without exception."
Burke adds that the South Pacific sanctuary proposal gives no consideration to the interests of consumers of whale products, and that scientific factors alleged to support a sanctuary designation are contrary to determinations already made by the IWC's Scientific Committee.
The Financial Times article notes that at the IWC's meeting in Australia last year, "IWC members from the Eastern Caribbean - Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines - voted against the sanctuary. They have been criticized by international environmental lobbyists.
"[At this year's meeting] the Eastern Caribbean votes are important in determining whether the whale sanctuary is established. The islands are being lobbied by countries and organisations in favour of the sanctuary, and by those opposed to it, particularly Japan. Greenpeace, an environmental lobby, has been trying to get the Eastern Caribbean governments to vote for the sanctuary."
A "media briefing" document distributed by Greenpeace in April elaborates: "it takes a three-fourths majority in favour to create a sanctuary at the IWC and when the vote came [last year], the sanctuary proposal failed, with 18 votes in favour and 11 opposed. Without [the Eastern Caribbean's opposing votes] the sanctuary would have passed easily by 18 votes to five." Miranda Brown of Australia's Department of the Environment says that her country wants at least three of the Caribbean nations to abstain from the vote this year, to tip the balance.
In the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Caribbean, things have gotten ugly. The Financial Times article quotes Audrey Cardwell of Greenpeace as saying "What Japan does here is nothing short of extortion", and the Japan Whaling Association (JWA) in turn accuses Greenpeace of trying "to intimidate governments" into voting for the sanctuary.
Greenpeace's April press release maintains that Japan has mounted "a 'vote consolidation operation' since the early 1990s [in which] six Eastern Caribbean states have been successfully recruited".
But the JWA counters that "ironically, most of the Eastern Caribbean states [now in the IWC] were originally recruited into the IWC, along with 15 other countries, by Greenpeace and other anti-whaling fundraising groups in 1982" Although reports that the anti-whaling organizations paid these recruits' initial IWC membership fees are unproven, former United States commissioner to the IWC William Aron has stated that foreign representatives of international anti-whaling groups sat as commissioners for some of these countries when they first joined the IWC.
Greenpeace literature says that the IWC's Caribbean members, who in 1982 voted in favor of a worldwide moratorium on whaling, did a "U turn" after being offered aid by Japan, and that since then "the evidence shows that Japan's granting of overseas aid to these countries is directly linked to how these countries vote in the IWC".
It is understandable that the pro- and anti-whaling camps have developed an adversarial relationship. But one might suppose, with the Caribbean nations' votes being so important, that both camps would woo the regional public with respect, in the hope that positive public opinion would sway governments' decisions in favor of their particular position. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. According to a first-hand report from an attendee at a Greenpeace press conference in Dominica in late April, and from my own experience at a media symposium on "sustainable use of marine resources" in Barbados in early June, both these events (which could be assumed to have been intended as highlights of each side's recent Caribbean PR campaigns) flunked the "Dale Carnegie test" of winning friends and influencing people.
Anders Hogmoen, a Norwegian student researching his Ph.D. thesis on news coverage in Dominica, describes the Greenpeace press conference held there aboard the organization's ship Arctic Sunrise on its recent Caribbean campaign: "It struck me the way the presentation was made. During the two-hour press conference, not one piece of scientific evidence was presented. The argument was really a threat -- that if you vote with Japan, you vote against your tourist industry. I thought it showed a lack of respect: making threats instead of offering education and sharing of evidence. It was arrogant.
"The reaction was quite hostile. [Dominica's former Prime Minister] Dame Eugenia Charles told them 'go to hell'."
Hogmoen was speaking at the June 2001 media symposium held in Barbados, to which some 40 regional TV, radio and print-media journalists had been invited. Hosted by the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, its nominal topic was "sustainable use of marine resources". Journalists from nations ranging from Jamaica to Guyana arrived eager to learn from experts about the full spectrum of problems facing the Caribbean's marine resources: conch, lobster, shrimp, fish, sea turtles, coral reefs and the very sea itself. Instead, they found a roster of presenters heavily weighted with expertise on one narrow subject. Nine of the 11 speakers had ties to the IWC or were experts on whaling issues. Four current or former IWC commissioners were present, along with the former IWC secretary and a current member of the IWC Scientific Committee. Also on hand were a spokesman for the Japan Whaling Association, and a member of the Japanese government's Institute for Cetacean Research who attends IWC meetings with the Japanese delegation. Making a presentation via video was the abovementioned sanctuary proposal detractor Professor William Burke. Deputy Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Karen Ford-Warner filled in at the last minute for Dominica's Minister of Agriculture Lloyd Pascal, also a former IWC commissioner. Although Ford-Warner's speech contained no whaling content, moderator Matt Peltier injected it. And all mention of whaling was in favor of sustainable use.
Reporting on the event, Vincentian newsman Hawkins Nanton wrote in the June 15 issue of the Searchlight, "things took a twist when it dawned on participants that they were attending a symposium that focused almost entirely on the controversial whaling issue. This triggered off heated exchanges between presenters and the journalists, who felt deceived."
As Nicole Duke-Westfield, news editor of the Trinidad Guardian newspaper, told the presenters, "A lot of us have been wondering what we were brought here for - we're not so gullible"
Michael Sharpe of Jamaica's TVJ remarked, "I came to a marine resources conference and I'm leaving from a whaling conference. We've been taken."
Odette Campbell of the Grenada Broadcasting Network announced: "We feel we've been hoodwinked."
Presenters denied that the symposium had been intended as a pro-whaling propaganda exercise. Despite direct questions from the press, asking presenters and moderators to reveal who had initially proposed the idea of the symposium and where exactly its funding had come from, the answers were not forthcoming - at least not on the record. But the journalists drew their own conclusions.
As Grenadian journalism instructor Zarah Grant asked in exasperation, "Do they think we're all stupid?"
Do the pro- and anti-whaling lobbies both think we're all stupid? With global issues at stake, it's sad that one side seems to feel that Caribbean people will be better influenced by a PR campaign which relies on threats rather than facts, and that the other side will give facts but appears to feel the need to present them through a misleadingly titled conference, and seems not to trust the regional media with the knowledge of who was behind their presentation.
What springs to mind is the plot of Spike Lee's movie "She's Gotta Have It", in which the heroine's two suitors make such asses of themselves fighting over her that she sees their true colors and realizes she's better off without either of them.
Would that the island nations of the Caribbean could afford the luxury of such independence.
Copyright© 2001 Compass Publishing