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Monday, 24 October 2011

Coke's 'murder music' response: 'too little, too late'

By Paul Canning

Following my writing about Coca-Cola's sponsorship of a music festival in Jamaica where 'murder music' was performed, the company has finally responded. Activists went public following their 'patience running out' after what they called a "protracted but unproductive written and phone communication" with Steve Bucherati, Coca-Cola's Chief Diversity Officer.

A comment was posted by Carlos Diaz, Coca-Cola Franchise Operations Director for South Caribbean to and LGBT Asylum News and the same response was published as a letter in Jamaica's Daily Gleaner.

Diaz wrote:
"We, too, were deeply disappointed that a program intended to celebrate the heritage of Jamaica included an unacceptable performance that in no way represents the views or values of the Coca-Cola system."
At the Coke Zero Live event in Jamaica in April the reggae artist Sizzla performed the notorious hate anthem 'Boom Bye Bye' which literally calls for the murder of homosexuals.

Veteran Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson says that there is at least one documented instance in Jamaica where 'Boom Bye Bye' was directly linked to the murder of a gay man.
"Diversity is one of our key values, and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on sexual orientation," wrote Diaz.

"As a result of this regrettable incident by one artist, we are reassessing and strengthening our efforts to ensure that events we sponsor are not used as platforms for espousing hatred and discrimination. We are continuing to work with the advocacy groups that brought this situation to our attention."

"We apologize to all who were offended by this performance, and we we want to ensure that our views on this incident are clear."
The response was described as "too little too late" by Tomlinson.

Tomlinson and the group AIDS-Free World have been trying to get a public response from Coca-Cola for over six months. It was only when I wrote about it, after AIDS-Free World released a letter to Steve Bucherati, that Coca-Cola publicly responded.
"After Sizzla used a worldwide platform provided by Coke to call for the execution of gays," says Tomlinson, "a fact which was brought to the attention of the company nearly six months ago, the organization feels that a blog post and a letter to the editor will now make all well again. This is ludicrous."

"One wonders if Sizzla, instead of calling for the execution of gays, had instead demanded the death of all Jews. Would Coke's response have taken the form and the length of time it did? I doubt it."

"The fact is that Coke's response to this hateful tirade by Sizzla palpably demonstrates the (lack of) regard the company has for the notion of equality of homosexuals. Coke can and must do more to make this right."
Diaz's comment does not respond to the four 'asks' which have been made of Coca-Cola:

This is what Coca-Cola is being asked to do:
  1. Publish a full-page advertisement in the Sunday edition of the three major Jamaican newspapers (the Jamaica Gleaner, the Jamaica Observer and the Sunday Herald) as well as a full-page advertisement in the Western Mirror denouncing Sizzla’s homophobic performance and expressing support for sexual diversity;
  2. Issue a formal statement explaining that it will no longer sponsor artistes who are known to have performed and refuse to apologize for homophobic songs;
  3. Include a clause in all future sponsorship agreements prohibiting homophobic speech or actions against performers, and in the event of a breach, specifying sanctions, including a termination of the sponsorship arrangement; and
  4. Sponsor a concert in Jamaica devoted entirely to artists who have not engaged in homophobic slurs, and that specific condition would be the centrepiece of the advertising for the concert.
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