In China the regime, fearing a fifth anniversary of the Tianenman Square freedom demonstrations might touch off new protests in Beijing, takes certain prudent steps.
They cut off CNN reports from the city's hotel rooms so that no one, least of all a passing Chinese, might possibly be contaminated by viewing some five-year old videotape of what happened in the square when young men and women, calling only for free speech and democracy, stood up to the tanks and were shot down and crushed for their troubles.
We expect this sort of thing from Communist China.
But in the same week, elsewhere in the world, other television news channels were being blacked out in hotels, lest guests become upset and possibly be informed.
These hotels are in Florida.
No one I know has yet confused Fort Lauderdale with Shanghai. Nor the hoteliers of Miami or Key West with the butchers of Tianenman Square.
But I don't think it unfair to draw parallels.
In Beijing they don't want anyone to see a replay of the democracy demos or the subsequent and brutal government crackdown. In Florida, they don't want hotel guests, especially tourists, to see the coverage of crime news on the television.
The innkeepers are especially sore about crime reporting on WSVN, Channel 7, a Fox affiliate, and according to The New York Times, it was a local gent named Victor Farkas, who got the thing started, blocking all WSVN programming from his two Miami Beach hotels, the Thunderbird and the Chateau-by-the-Sea. I am sure these are very fine hotels but apparently if you stay in them, you are not only insulated from nasty crime news, you also can't watch "The Simpsons." Or, next fall, John Madden and the NFL.
This is a terrible thing to do to innocent hotel guests.
And Farkas the Censor is not alone. There is also Don Lefton, vice-chairman of the Continental Hotels, which operates seven hotels, including the Bonaventure in Fort Lauderdale, the Grand Bay in Miami and the celebrated Pier House in Key West, which I can tell you is a splendid place with an outdoor bar where at dusk, people gather each night to watch the sun fall into the Gulf of Mexico and applaud the sunset (on a scale of 1 to 10).
I know this, because I've been there. But Mr. Lefton is complaining about, not the sunsets, but what he sees on WSVN: "... a continuous barrage of the body bags on the street and the blood coming out of them." All this, he believes, tends to make South Florida something less of a tourist attraction and cuts into occupancy rates. I would think he may have gotten it backwards. That it isn't the TV that ought to be cut off but the killing.
A spokesman for the station made the point. "I'm out in the community and the No. 1 concern of our viewers is crime."
In Beijing the No. 1 concern seemed to be reminding folks what happened five years ago when some of China experienced and enjoyed a brief flirtation with freedom. Hotels were ordered to pull the plugs on their satellite links to CNN. So, too, housing where journalists, foreign dips and businessmen from overseas are put up. No CNN for them, either.
So the despots of Beijing have shut down TV news for a while. Fortunately, in South Florida, the Miami area specifically, there are three other English-language TV stations where visitors, whether businessman and women or tourists, can still get the news they aren't being permitted to watch on WSVN.
Farkas the Censor wasn't saying anything for quotes. Not in the Times. But Lefton the Censor was. "I welcome people to report the news," he said, "but to adopt a pattern of continuous sensationalism is doing our community a disservice."
I see. He's all for freedom of the press so long as the press reports only the good stuff.
None of this behavior is unique to Florida, of course, nor all that unprecedented down there. It has long been an honored tradition to downplay shark or barracuda attacks on bathers or surfers, on grounds that such stories render the beaches and bathing somewhat less appealing. Mostly, this has been self-censorship by smallish, local newspapers, well aware of Chamber of Commerce concerns and vulnerable to local advertising pressures.
But if this doesn't speak very highly for editorial courage, at least it is the editors editing themselves. Not gloriously, but still. What the hoteliers are pulling is bloody outrageous.
I don't know about you, but if I pay a hundred fifty or two hundred bucks for a room in a swell hotel in Florida, and from what I know these are excellent hotels, I want A/C, telephones that work, room service to deliver, hot water to flow and good reception on the TV. And if there are four stations in town then I want to be able to channel-surf among all four. I pay the money, the hotel provides the service. Are Messrs. Lefton and Farkas reducing their room rates because they're depriving guests of one-fourth of the usual available television?
God knows we're all fed up with body bags and violence on the tube. When I mentioned what was happening in Florida a magazine editor pal of mine declared loudly, "These people are being very smart. Have you ever heard of niche publishing, niche broadcasting?"
Yes, I have. But I want to define myself and not have hotel owners deciding in what niche I belong. Let me decide what to watch on TV. Or turn off. That really doesn't seem to be either the responsibility or prerogative of "good mine host." Or, as a traveler of old might cry:
"Water for my horses and wine for my men, innkeeper! And keep your paws off Channel 7, if you please."