U.K. tycoon lawmaker targets Japan’s ‘bribed’ whaling allies

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

A wealthy British parliamentarian and entrepreneur is funding an “unprecedented” TV campaign to try to dissuade six small Caribbean nations from voting with Japan at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission that starts Monday.

Michael Ashcroft has devised a $500,000 ad campaign — “Tell Japan We’ll Keep The Ban” — which is currently being screened in some of the six island nations he is targeting: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The House of Lords member, who has considerable business interests in the Caribbean, argues Tokyo has “bribed” these smaller nations with multimillion dollar aid packages so they will vote in favor of lifting the ban on commercial whaling.

The 30-second ad shows a mother and her young daughter walking along a Caribbean beach when the girl suddenly screams as the water turns red, signifying the blood from a whale kill. It shows a whale being caught and asks viewers to protest their government’s support for Japan. “Tell your government, we won’t do their (Japan’s) dirty work,” the ad implores.

The goal was to show the ad around 1,000 times during peak hours, but the campaign has run into a few problems since starting at the beginning of May. Several TV stations have refused to show the ad, Ashcroft’s spokesman said.

“One can only suppose they are keen not to alienate anyone,” he said.

Ben Bradshaw, the British minister with responsibility for whaling, told Parliament that if the reports are true it would amount to “disgraceful censorship.” He has asked the TV stations for clarification.

As well as making the ad, Ashcroft, who is a senior official for the Conservatives, the main opposition party, and one of its important donors, has also written to the various governments asking them to change their position on whaling.

In an open letter, he has written, “Every Caribbean nation needs revenue from beyond its shores, and public projects everywhere are crying out for overseas support.

“For these reasons, no one can blame those who have taken financial help from the Japanese, but that assistance should be freely given. Japanese aid often has unacceptable strings attached. In return for that help, they expect voting support from your nation at the IWC. That voting support should now be removed.”

Japan has always denied it has bribed these smaller nations with fisheries aid, pointing out that it distributes aid to many countries each year regardless of their position on whaling.

Environmentalists have credited Ashcroft with persuading Belize to attend last year’s IWC and vote with the antiwhaling nations. Ashcroft’s efforts were particularly noteworthy when the antiwhaling grouping won a crucial vote with a majority of one.

He has considerable business interests in Belize and was once the country’s ambassador to the United Nations. His spokesman confirmed that Ashcroft had “helped Belize” with its subscriptions to the IWC last year so it could attend and vote.

Ashcroft’s love of whales came about when he spotted “huge and extraordinary” humpbacks swimming close to his yacht. He has said it is “entirely beyond my comprehension” that the Japanese harpoon whales.

“We must persuade our Caribbean friends to resist the Japanese bribery, and to vote in favor of the whales and a continuation of the ban,” he wrote in his open letter.

Ashcroft argues that these Caribbean nations could attract more tourists by developing a whale-watching industry. And he warns that if they persist in supporting Japan and whaling, tourists could shun them. He has been a successful entrepreneur for nearly 40 years and is the chairman and major shareholder of BB Holdings, a financial services company operating in Belize, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Caribbean.

At this week’s IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, the antiwhaling nations, led by Britain, Australia and the United States, will be trying to ensure that nothing is done to weaken the ban on hunting.

At last year’s meeting, the prowhaling group led by Japan scored limited victories, but the ban, in force since 1986, remained. Lifting it would require support from 75 percent of the IWC members. Initial indications suggest the antiwhaling group will have an enlarged majority at this year’s talks.