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Government: Be Transparent in Dealing with H1N1 Virus

Truth and Openness is the Best Way to Deal with a Global Epidemic.

(6/29/2009) When it comes to the H1N1 virus, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is urging openness and transparency in how Indonesia deals with the worldwide epidemic. Meanwhile, many within the tourism sector are urging moderation from the press in its coverage of the potential threat posed to public health by "swine flu."

According to Radar Bali, both sides to the debate have their individual reasons for their differing views. Tourism operators within the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) claim news stories on H1N1 have the potential of reducing tourist arrivals to Bali. In seeming contradiction, the Ministry responsible for tourism is calling on the provincial government and related agencies to not cover up details regarding "swine flu."

Speaking in Bali at a meeting of the Bali Chapter of the PHRI, the head of development of human resources for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, I Gusti Putu Laksaguna, was adamant in his view hat foreign visitors need clear information. He cautioned provincial governments not to conceal the problem of "swine flu" saying: "If there are foreigners suffering from 'swine flu,' then report that fact. Don't cover up this sort of information, tell it like it is."

Laksaguna believes that by providing truthful explanations, Indonesia will gain both public sympathy and trust, paving the way for the acceptance as truthful reports on the various preventative steps being taken to prevent the spread of the disease. On a practical level, the tourism official pointed out that efforts at deception would prove futile as infected tourists will eventually tell their story to the outside world.

Will such truthfulness cause tourism arrivals to decline? Laksaguna feels that any downturn will be insignificant if the hotel and travel industry communicate openly with tourists. "For instance, if a tourist wants to cut short his stay because of swine flu, the hotel must be able to describe how those being infected with the disease are not catching the disease in Bali. They must also be told of the many steps being taken to control the disease's spread," he explained.

In response, the Chairman of the Bali Chapter of PHRI, Tjokorda Oka Artha Sukawati, admitted that hotel operation in Bali were concerned with the implications of the 'swine flu' epidemic. He asked for all involved not to panic and to continue to carry on life as usual, supporting steps to prevent the spread of H1N1.

Registering a view slightly at odds with that held by Laksaguna, Tjokorda said he hoped the media would not sensationalize the news on "swine fly." Tjokora said: "If you're going report (on 'swine flu'), then report the news in a proportional way and the steps being taken to keep it under control; don't blow-up the news on 'swine flu.'"