MEDIA WATCH: Sexual assaults threaten to sink Carnival’s image

The revelation of numerous sexual assaults on board Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships has produced waves of bad publicity for both the company and the industry. Beyond the initial reports of 62 incidents, the cruise line has revealed that further less-serious accusations actually increased this total to 108. And with each announcement, the media has questioned the safety of passengers on cruise lines.

The revelation of numerous sexual assaults on board Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships has produced waves of bad publicity for both the company and the industry. Beyond the initial reports of 62 incidents, the cruise line has revealed that further less-serious accusations actually increased this total to 108. And with each announcement, the media has questioned the safety of passengers on cruise lines.

The revelation of numerous sexual assaults on board Carnival Cruise

Lines’ ships has produced waves of bad publicity for both the company

and the industry. Beyond the initial reports of 62 incidents, the cruise

line has revealed that further less-serious accusations actually

increased this total to 108. And with each announcement, the media has

questioned the safety of passengers on cruise lines.



Carnival’s efforts to diffuse the shock caused by its announcements were

not very effective. The world’s largest cruise company appeared to spin

the statistics as meager, in comparison to the 6.5 million passengers it

carried during the five years, but the media kept its collective focus

on the negative aspects of the story.



Carnival lawyer Curtis Mase served as the company’s primary spokesman,

defending its record: ’When compared to FBI uniform crime

statistics ...



Carnival ships are incredibly safe. In fact, 40 times safer than

anywhere in America (ABC, July 15).



But this safety argument was drowned out in the media. Even before

Carnival raised its tally to 108 accusations, the New York Times, US

News and World Report, ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN and NBC had already described

the statistics as ’shocking’ or a ’surprise.’ The lawyer for one assault

victim noted the number only reflected assaults by crew members. ’Keep

in mind,’ he said, ’these statistics don’t include rapes by other

passengers’ (CBS, July 15).



One item included in many reports implied that there could be more

revelations to come. It was noted that the lack of specific statistics

was largely due to the fact that foreign-registered cruise ships serving

the US market are not bound by US law to report assaults at sea.



The failure to report these assaults earlier produced the

least-favorable coverage of all. One network reported that ’there has

been a pattern of cover-ups to protect the reputation of Carnival by

coercing or buying the silence of the person involved, or possibly

shielding the perpetrator’ (CNN, July 14). An editorial in the Ft.

Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (July 20) added, ’Withholding those records from

the public does nothing to discourage the perception that the cruise

industry has something to hide - and will go to some lengths to do

so.’



There was some indication that the industry was taking the criticism to

heart. Prompted by the disclosure (and the ensuing bad press) Carnival

and the International Council of Cruise Lines voted to establish an

industry-wide ’zero-tolerance’ policy for crimes, with vessels that call

on US ports mandated to forward all reports of crimes to the FBI.



Carnival also adopted a somewhat more sympathetic public image. ’Even

one allegation is too many,’ president Bob Dickinson told the media (The

Wall Street Journal, July 29).



While Carnival and the cruise industry appear to have taken steps to

shore up their image, they should make sure that their cruise ships

follow through on the industry’s new guidelines. Otherwise, the

allegations aired to date may become only the tip of the iceberg that

sinks the industry.



- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be

found at www. carma.com.



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