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Tempers ignite - MPs clash over flag-burning advertisement

Ministry was very slow in German ad issue, says MP

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 28, 2013    

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THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade's handling of the stomping of a burning Jamaica flag in a German

appliance company's advertisement sparked a heated exchange between members of parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) yesterday.

Government Member of Parliament (MP) Raymond Pryce fanned the flames of discontent caused by the controversial advert when he said that he was unable to find any statement from the ministry explaining what had happened on an official level to address the matter, especially given that persons employed to the ministry had publicly expressed their personal views.

"I would be happy if you could point me to it," Pryce told the ministry's permanent secretary, Ambassador Paul Robotham.

Robotham explained that the issue came to the attention of the ministry on Friday, and that by Saturday a news release was issued and instructions given to the ambassador in Germany to take up the matter with Saturn, the company responsible for the advertisement, as well as the German foreign ministry.

Robotham suggested that this led to the apology from Saturn on Tuesday, and the subsequent withdrawal of the advertisement.

However, this explanation failed to impress Pryce.

"Would I be wrong if I believed that the withdrawal of the ad was more directed by the owners of the work, than from any advocacy from Jamaica?" Pryce asked.

Robotham countered that the result was achieved by "tactful, strategic" addressing of the issue, "which may or may not have involved the media".

PAAC Chairman Edmund Bartlett interjected that there was a "widely held view" that the foreign ministry was "very slow off the mark" in addressing the matter which last week caused several Jamaicans' blood to boil.

"At very best, the argument can be advanced that a subsequent diplomatic effort resulted in a conclusion we are all very pleased about, but that indeed the ministry was very slow in taking off on the matter, and it was the effort of the others, including the Opposition's spokesperson on culture (Olivia 'Babsy' Grange)," Bartlett said.

"I think this is a matter of record," he added.

Government MP Fitz Jackson countered that his understanding was that the ministry had "opted for quiet diplomacy" in seeking a resolution.

"So there wasn't initially a public declaration on the matter," Jackson said, while admitting that initially there were "more vocal comments" from outside the ministry.

He added that there was also a view that the advert "didn't seem totally negative" and therefore quiet diplomacy would ensure balance.

But Bartlett dismissed that explanation, suggesting that Jackson would have been better off just allowing the permanent secretary's response to stand.

"I think he did a better job. Once it is a matter dealing with your flag, a flag is a symbol of your identity and there a few elements of identity that supercede the flag. Therefore, I think that a quick public response would have been adequate initially to

stave off any perception that we were slow, from a diplomatic point of view, in engaging Saturn or the Germans," he said.

He was supported by fellow Opposition MP Marissa Dalrymple- Philibert, who felt that the handling of the flag in the advertisement should have united Jamaicans against the treatment.

"Our national symbols ought to be sacred to all of us, and all we are saying is that when it comes to these symbols, we expect the foreign affairs ministry to continue to protect our interest as Jamaicans," she said.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator AJ Nicholson on Tuesday accepted an apology from Saturn, the German appliance company that created and broadcast the ad.

Nicholson said that Saturn offered the apology in a letter to Joy Wheeler, Jamaica's ambassador to Germany, stating that at no time time did it intend to offend the national sentiment of the Jamaican people or diminish the significance of the Jamaican flag.

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