Is all publicity good publicity?

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Once again, our bit of paradise, Antigua & Barbuda, featured prominently in the world media.  Not because of our sun, sea and sand, where the beach is just the beginning; rather, we were part of a 60 Minutes segment on CBS regarding our Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP).

Now, you all know our feelings on CIP.  We do not like the concept, but it is seemingly widely supported by the public and our politicians, so we are forced to go along for the ride.  That said, if you needed one reason to dislike the programme then you need only look at the negative global perception being created and perpetuated.

At the onset, what is obvious from the 60 Minutes programme is that it makes little difference if our CIP is the best regulated, it is being lumped together with all of the other ‘cash for passport’ schemes which are all being portrayed as a blight on global security. 

We need only listen to Steve Kroft at the opening of the 60 Minutes segment and you would get a good idea of where the programme and its producers were going.

In his generic description of citizen by investment programmes being offered by “cash-starved” countries, he had this to say: “It’s called citizenship by investment and it’s become a $2 billion industry built around people looking for a change of scenery or a change of passport, a new life or maybe a new identity, a getaway from the rat race, or perhaps an escape from an ex-spouse or Interpol. In any event, it’s brought in huge amounts of revenue for the sellers and attracted among the buyers a rogue’s gallery of scoundrels, fugitives, tax cheats, and possibly much worse.”

If that introduction was not enough, the scene quickly turned to Dominca and an interview with Parliamentarian Lennox Linton, who, when asked by Kroft if the CIP was “sorta just mail order citizenship?”, replied, “Sort of. Something like that.”

It also did not help when Chris Kalin, the so-called inventor of the global CIP business, equated passports to an everyday piece of plastic that sits in your wallet – a credit card.  He told Steve Kroft, in a very matter-of-fact kind of way, “You probably have more than one credit card, I would assume. And, you know, if Visa doesn’t work, Mastercard will do. So I think any wealthy person nowadays should have more than one credit card. And likewise, you’d have more than one passport.”

At this point, we were collectively holding our head in our hands.  Without Prime Minister Browne appearing on screen, our citizenship was reduced to “just another travel accessory; a passport of convenience” due to the CIP.  What a way to start the year!?

Admittedly, Antigua & Barbuda came out the least scarred in the CBS piece, thanks in no small part to the PM’s decision to appear on camera and defend the country’s decision to launch a citizenship by investment programme.

Give ‘Jack his jacket’ on this one.  The other countries failed to show up in defence of their programme, so it allowed the void to be filled by the rhetoric.  In the few clips allowed to air, PM Browne staunchly defended the country in the face of an aggressive attempt at discrediting our CIP.  (Good grief!  Can’t believe that we just referred to it as “our” CIP!)

In any case, the PM did a decent job in fielding the questions thrown at him and at the very least gave some balance to the way the storyline was obviously set up.  Our insiders tell us that the PM’s more cutting remarks ended up on the cutting room floor, because they, too, did not fit the storyline desired by the producers. 

Interestingly, the most serious indictment probably came from Chris Kalin himself.  After describing the application and vetting process and attempting to persuade Steve Kroft that “in the properly-run programmes, you have to be a reputable person. And that’s checked”, he conceded that there was “no secret that these islands have made decisions that are not always optimal”.

When asked whether the islands had taken in “bozos” and “crooks”, Kalin replied, “Yes. It’s goes all the way down to crooks, yeah, absolutely. And it tended for some time to attract quite a few people that I would never let into the country. But I’m not the government of St Kitts and Nevis.”  Adding, “We helped to set up the programme. But, you know, as it is, advisers advise, ministers decide.”

It was that very public ‘my hands are clean’ hand-washing that very likely caused the most un-ease with viewers.  The message was clear.  He could have just as easily said, ‘look, we advise them against certain things but the countries are in a bad way and sometimes they just take whoever comes their way … against good advice”.

In the final analysis, we have to wonder how we fared?  Was the top 10 rated 60 Minutes with its almost 13 million views, which included potential visitors and law makers, good or bad for Antigua & Barbuda?  Has anyone done any analysis as to the “cost” of this type of negative publicity?  Or will we adopt the old public relations adage that says, “All publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right”? 

What we do know is that there are more than a few that will say that the piece was good for Antigua & Barbuda’s CIP product, as it highlighted that we are the best in the Caribbean.  On the other hand, there are just as many that will surely say that all it may have done was to say that we are the best of a bad lot.  What do you say?

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