Bartlett denies taxpayers' money spent on birthday ad in Times SquareThursday, December 24, 2020
TOURISM Minister Edmund Bartlett yesterday slammed those behind a social media post that claimed taxpayers' money had been used to pay for an ad in Times Square, New York, wishing him happy birthday.
“The backlash [on social media] is from wutliss people, bad mind people. If you want to ask a question, ask it. But don't go and say that it is government money or anybody's money because you don't know. So if you have a concern, ask a question, just like how you're asking now. You don't go and make pejorative statements about people and what they have done [when] you don't know,” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
The suggestion that taxpayers' money had been used for the ad was nonsensical, he argued.
“Why would anybody be putting up their picture in Times Square for birthday? It doesn't make sense. How could you do that? How would that be justified anywhere or place?” Bartlett added.
The seconds-long ad, he explained, was an unsolicited but appreciated gift from a friend.
“The man owns about 500 billboards in the United States and he has the Times Square one. He's a friend of mine; he recognised my birthday, but he didn't even do it on my birthday [December 3], it was weeks after. It came as a surprise to all of us, and it was a nice little surprise,” explained the tourism minister.
The seven-storey-tall Nasdaq Tower is one of several prime locations in Times Square, a premier attraction which, its website says, typically attracts almost 42 million visitors per year. Those numbers would be substantially less this year, as COVID-19 has crippled America's tourism sector, as it has done across the world. The ad's reach would have been more substantial last year when the same “friend” used the spot to welcome Bartlett to the city.
“He did it when I went to New York last year, put up a big thing that said 'welcome minister of tourism'. He is my friend,” said Bartlett, who opted not to name the individual. “[It lasted a] couple seconds. But these things are seen by millions of people, that's the good thing. It's in Times Square which is the busiest square in the world. So anything that's there even for half a second is still good stuff.”
Asked if such valuable publicity would have been better channelled to promoting the island's tourism industry than his birthday, Bartlett said that care had to be taken to avoid any hint of nepotism. It would have been unwise, he said, for him to suggest to his friend that the free ad should promote Jamaica.
“Then you guys would say that's nepotism. You guys will go and say that it's unethical because I'm using my influence to do things like that. You can't win,” he said.
He stressed that any decision to take out ads on the same spot to promote the country as a tourist destination rests with the tourist board.
“That now you would have to pay for. The tourist board would have to determine the value of that spend in relation to their other advertising efforts, so it's not a decision for me,” he said. “That's a decision that the tourist board takes, having regard to its advertising dollar and where they think they get the best bang for their buck.”
For now, Bartlett is shaking off the criticisms on social media, saying it is unfortunate but “par for the course in my life”.
“That is obviously how a lot of people get their kicks,” he said.
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