Disney should put welfare of people before its image

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 March, 2006, 12:00am

Disneyland has been open barely six months, but some people who have to deal with the theme park's management may feel that that is half a year too long.

Police are the latest to be put in Disney's firing line, according to an officer assigned to keep law and order at the park. He claims police have been accused of being too visible when trouble breaks out. They have the feeling that when it comes to law enforcement, the US-based company would prefer Mickey Mouse or one of his pals to take charge.

During a dry run for the park's opening last August, health officers inspecting a restaurant were told to be less conspicuous when carrying out their work by removing their caps and badges. That time, Disney bit off more than it could chew: its order sparked public outrage.

The lesson has not been learned, it would seem. The policeman contends that Disney staff are preventing officers from doing their jobs properly, telling them when to press charges or make arrests, to keep as low a profile as possible and that prior approval must be given before they can carry out a particular assignment.

Relations have been further soured by a complaint by the company to police management which has led to the launching of a misconduct inquiry against a commander, the officer says. He claims that the working relationship is not as good as it should be and that during the park's operation so far 'in terms of working together, I can tell you many frontline police colleagues have had bad experiences'.

Disney portrayed the criticism as a fairy tale, saying it had 'a very good and close working relationship' with police.

Journalists would wish for such a situation with the company. Disney has a reputation for being coy with the media and often tight-lipped about its operations. Patrons have even had tough times; during the Lunar New Year, there were angry scenes at the park's turnstiles when tourists who had bought tickets on the internet were unable to get in because the park had reached capacity and not bothered informing them.

The Hong Kong government's pro-business stance means that companies here often have more latitude in how they go about their operations than they might elsewhere. When it comes to issues such as law and order and health, though, circumstances are different: the public, not the company, must come first.

Disneyland is a rather different proposition as well, given that the majority shareholder is the government. Disney may be the operator, but when it comes to the welfare of patrons, our police, health officers, firefighters and whoever else may have to work there should be given free rein within the theme park's grounds so that their work can be done efficiently.

They are the professionals in such matters after all, not Disney.