White sands, coral reefs, exclusive tourism… and journalists in jail. As part of BTP’s work for the government of the Maldives and the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (the tourist board), a group of travel, adventure, and environmental journalists from leading international newspapers in the US, UK, Europe, and Asia – along with a TV crew from a US-based global broadcaster - were invited to the island nation to experience and report on new eco-tourism initiatives, and ocean, coral and marine conservation. And they began their visit under arrest.
Challenge Freeing journalists from prison is not the easiest task in any country, but BTP managed to extract its travel and environmental journalists from their cells in only a matter of hours. The reason for their incarceration was a bureaucratic oversight: journalists need to apply for media entry visas for the Maldives – but short notice for the tour combined with a written assurance from the government that for them this requirement was waived saw them all enter the country as tourists. At passport control our ‘tourists’ were flagged as in fact being on a list of ‘journalists’. Computer said ‘no’. The police were called.
Work A number of political reporters had entered the country in previous months posing as tourists without notifying the authorities and in order to write biased and negative stories about the then government. So, perhaps, it was unsurprising this discrepancy was flagged at the border. Yet most journalists would have written about their shock at being detained and jailed – even for the shortest time. Fortunately, BTP had only invited journalists who we knew very well and who we had partnered with before. Our relationships with these travel, adventure, and environmental journalism experts – who were hand-picked to join the tour because of their expertise, and our long-standing rapport with them – meant they were prepared to work with us to deliver the real story they had travelled to the Maldives to cover, not a report on a mistake and a side-show.
Results None of the visiting media mentioned their time in prison in their reports – which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Straits Times, Mongabay, New Scientist, Condé Nast Traveller and on CNN.