The Belize Times online said last week that two journalists reported incidents they consider to be intimidation. The PUP media journalist, Vaughan Gill, claimed that someone had loosened the nuts on one of his car wheels, and the Plus TV television journalist, Louis Wade, stated that someone had smashed one of his vehicle’s windows. Both these gentlemen live in Belmopan, although Mr. Gill travels into Belize City two or three times a week to participate in the PUP radio talk show on Positive Vibes.
There are no national or municipal elections scheduled for the near future here. Village council elections will be held next year, but these are not normally earthshaking events. The political climate has been somewhat tense for a long time, however, because of the serious, multiple Ashcroft lawsuits against the Government of Belize, because the PUP came very close to winning this year’s national elections and took a long time getting over it, and because of referenda which will be held simultaneously in Belize and Guatemala next year October to decide whether the Guatemalan claim should go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Throw in the fact that the levels of crime and violence are frighteningly high, along with emotional issues like the fight for gay rights (UNIBAM) and the marijuana decriminalization matter, add the recent turmoil in sugar and citrus, mix in the overall malaise in the Belizean economy, and we would say that things are not all that copacetic.
On the Gill and Wade incidents, we would say that they should have reported these incidents to all the legitimate media houses. We saw the Wade report on a Channel 7 newscast, but did not hear this story on the only radio station with a national signal – LOVE FM. The Gill story received even less coverage, to the best of our knowledge.
We are saying that the only real protection the genuine journalist has is exposing the facts to the people. There have been two major attempts to organize journalists in the last two decades. In the mid-1990s, Glenn Tillett, while he was editor of Amandala, began an initiative which had national support from journalists, but the initiative didn’t last long. Then, around 2006 or so, Kremandala, The Reporter, Channel 7, LOVE FM, Stewart Krohn of Channel 5, and the free lance journalist Ann-Marie Williams, met several times and invested money in creating a legal structure for a media organization. The 2006 initiative specifically excluded media systems owned by political parties.
The problem with the 2006 initiative was likely the problem which has always divided journalists. The politicians are much better financed than the journalists, and more powerful. When the politicians, especially the ruling ones, want to divide Belizean journalists, they have been able to do so.
It seems to us that after the 2006 initiative had lost steam, Mr. Krohn announced that he was selling his television station to Lord Ashcroft. There had always been the feeling amongst the smart money that Lord Ashcroft owned shares in Channel 5, so the sale was no big surprise. The question is, what would the organization have done if that sale had taken place while the media/journalists’ organization was up and running?
If a journalist is working for Lord Ashcroft, he or she doesn’t need any protection. If a journalist is working for one of the two major political parties, that journalist is protected by his or her political party. Where danger exists is for the media systems which are independent, and challenging. If a system is independent, but compliant, there is no real danger.
But, journalists have too many common interests not to be organized in some fashion or the other. One question is whether working journalists should be organized on their own. In the case of the 2006 initiative, all of the principals were owners except for Ann-Marie.
The reason we write this editorial is that because we are leaders in this field, if only by reason of longevity, we feel some solidarity with our colleagues. The Gill and Wade stories did not receive the attention they probably merited in the newspaper because the principals did not make enough noise. If journalists were organized, they would not have to make a lot of noise if they were victimized or targeted. The organization would step forward and tell it like it is. We’re just saying.