Minister Lee touched on the critical role that the media has to ensure that the public has access to accurate, factual, balanced and unbiased information. As part of any democratic process, this information is critical for the public’s decision-making process. So, keeping this in mind, and without the intention of infringing upon anyone’s freedom of speech, Minister Lee recommended to the media of St Maarten to establish their own guidelines and association.
Minister Lee made reference to the Netherlands press council’s internal guidelines (http://ethicnet.uta.fi/netherlands/guidelines_from_the_netherlands_press_council) that they have adopted from international standards. Examples of these guidelines included that "a journalist would avoid biased (one-sided) reporting. When publishing accusations, a journalist would investigate whether there was a sound basis for them. They would essentially hear from both sides of the argument. If reasonably possible, the journalist will hear who are disqualified as a result of the publication even if their role is marginal. The accused will be given ample opportunity to respond to the accusations, preferably, in the same publication without being subject to unreasonable time pressure. If a journalist who appears to have reported incorrectly or incompletely on a certain essential point, will make a suitable and generous rectification on their own initiative."
Minister Lee made reference to a disturbing article that was released in his absence stating that he committed USD $200k to SunWing while attending CHTA Marketplace. Minister Emil Lee then provided factual clarity to the accusation explaining that every minister [on Sint Maarten] knows that they are not allowed to commit amounts over Naf 50,000 without an approval process by the Ministry and Council of Ministers. “Certainly, as a Minister filling in for the Minister of Tourism, I would not even venture to execute that authority for a Ministry that I am representing on a few days basis”, said Minister Lee.
CHTA Marketplace is an event for buyers and suppliers. Tourist offices and hotels meet with tour operators to discuss plans for the future such as possible cooperative marketing efforts. Discussions occurred with Expedia, Trip Advisor, SunWing, and a number of different tour operators. Minister Lee was accompanied by a representative of the tourist office and a member of the cabinet of TEATT in every meeting. The Minister made it clear there was no commitment letter, email or contract issued by Minister Lee to Sunwing. "Sunwing is a professional organization that has been doing business in the Caribbean for many years. Working with different Caribbean tourism entities, they are well aware that any commitment of funds would need to be confirmed with a signed agreement. There is no way they left the meeting with a commitment of funds." stated Minister Lee.
Minister Lee expressed his support of marketing support for SunWing. SunWing brings direct flights with passengers from Canada to Sint Maarten. IATA’s estimation of financial contribution per flight is approximately USD $13 million in direct and indirect spending. Minister Lee made it clear that, in principal, based on the aforementioned information that he would be in support of spending money to support direct air access and reservations into our destination.
Other discussions with the tour operators included discussions about media and the manner in which the funds would be spent. Making sure that the funds were spent on hard advertising that generated real exposure for the island as opposed to in house marketing activities. “Were there discussions about what a future plan would look like? Sure. Were there discussions about the frustrations about dealing with Sint Maarten and how money approvals always took so long, and how money was received late and translated to it being spent inefficiently? Sure. How would we spend that money more effectively and ensure that Sint Maarten is getting the ‘bang for its buck’ that it deserves? Sure, that’s the job of the Minister. To negotiate terms that are in the best interest of the country”, said Minister Lee.
Minister Lee stated that a simple communication asking for the other side of the story would have yielded a balanced report. He concluded by reading an email that he received from one of the SunWing representatives that saw the article. The email read as follows:
"I am writing you in regards to the article that was published in the SMN-News. Firstly, we [are] deeply disturbed that a confidential email is misquoted and misrepresented. And, secondly, that it be brought up in the media. … We had also discussed the amount of marketing support and we understood that you would be supportive of our request if it met the criteria set by the tourism office. We did not believe it would be in your purview to approve funding for us on the spot."