The media and police brass to meet tomorrow to discuss impasse
BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 23, 2017–For several days now, members of the media have been discussing, through their Whatsapp group “We and Dem”, the state of affairs in the relationship between their industry and the Belize Police Department, because the general consensus among journalists, editors and television news directors is that the information output from the Police Department has been minimal and unhelpful when balanced against the rights of the media to inform the public, especially in a climate where crime continues to spike.
This morning, several media personalities took to the airwaves on the morning talk shows to make their case for continuing a boycott to demonstrate their objection to the Police Department’s stinginess with its flow of information.
KREM’s Wake Up Belize Morning Vibes and Plus TV’s Rise and Shine teamed up on a special simulcast, while other media personalities were deployed to other stations. Channel 7’s Jules Vasquez went on the Morning Show at Love Television along with that station’s Renee Trujillo to discuss the state of affairs between the Police Department and the media, which recently staged a boycott of all police events.
In outlining how things have reached the present state of affairs, Louis Wade, the host of Plus TV’s Rise and Shine, explained that things got out of hand last month when the media was wrongfully blamed for the public contention between Chester Williams and Marco Vidal.
Wade said that the police unilaterally ended the cooperation that was worked out with the media.
KREM’s news director Marisol Amaya, who took time out from her vacation, explained that, in early January, following the holidays, it became clear that the police were not reciprocating the media’s efforts at cooperation, and then Senior Superintendent Marco Vidal entered the fray and things began to go downhill between the media and the Police Department to the point where the media felt that a second boycott became necessary.
“The police have forgotten who we all work for,” Wade said. Wade said that over the last few months there have been over 20 murders and the police have not budged with information. There have been at least 25 requests for interviews and not one was granted, Wade pointed out.
WUB host Mose Hyde asked the two guests how did the absence of credible reports from police affect the production of the evening news.
Amaya explained that the problem with the model that they are employing is that the police just want to provide minor, or basic details. There are numerous police brutality incidents that have reportedly occurred in different parts of the country. “Of course, the police don’t want to give that information; it is the media who has to give that information. You will not get that from any WhatsApp group”, Amaya said.
“You have incidents where the public wants to know how the police is handing incidents, incidents where politicians and people connected to politicians are involved, and there have been several of those in this period. You will not get that in any police report. The media have to be there to do its job,” Amaya explained.
Wade explained that in the developed countries, police leaders give press briefings on the scene, right there with the yellow markers. “But in Belize, the police work for the politicians,” Wade said.
Jules Vasquez, in a television interview, explained that a meeting between media representatives and the police is scheduled to take place tomorrow morning at the Racoon Street Police Station.
“Hopefully, we can end the boycott there and then,” Vasquez stated.
He added, “We are in the news business. It’s ridiculous for us to have a boycott. The last thing we want to do is boycott.”
Below is the text of a letter the media wrote the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, and Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, George Lovell. The letter is dated Sunday, October 22:
“Commissioner, we met on March 30, 2017, at the Raccoon Street station to discuss police/media relations. At that time, we agreed to move forward in partnership and reciprocity by restoring and energizing the Media/Police WhatsApp group, that the Commissioner will consider requests for press interviews on a case by case basis, and that we would meet again at the end of July to review progress
“No follow-up meeting was held, and then in mid-September your office (I presume, since no explanation has been given) unilaterally changed the terms of media engagement. This abrupt, no-consultation decision left the press cluelessly in the lurch. Over two dozen interview requests were made between mid-September and mid-October, all denied without explanation or apology.
“The principle of reciprocity, and the spirit of respect and consultative communication having been abandoned, the media instituted a boycott of all police/Ministry of Home Affairs events on October 11.
“One week after the boycott was instituted, on October 18, we got an encouraging signal from the Prime Minister at a press conference. His words on the impasse: ‘In terms of the police and the deterioration of the relationship of the media, well, both ministers are here and I’m sure that can be worked out. We are concerned, and I have said that it is the duty of the government to treat you well… So, in a democracy, I am completely with you that the press should never be excluded and we will sort out that business of the disruption of relations between the media and the police.
“Sir, the Prime Minister has made it clear the spirit and direction we should move forward in. He has given a tasking to ‘sort out’ the disruption and that the press must be respected. We are asking for the meeting that we were long promised to work out a modus vivendi. We want the press briefings to resume: the public has a need and right to know; we ask questions on their behalf. I urge you to let us move forward in partnership — the press is a critical stakeholder in the public peace.
“Sir, we do not want to boycott the police; we have been forced to do so by your refusal to meet, the lack of respect for our process, and the needs of the public we serve. I urge that the long overdue meeting (2.5 months) between all parties be held to urgently revise the police/media engagement model and permanently restore the free, unfettered flow of information.”