BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. May 3, 2017–It is indeed a case of irony that on the same day that the world officially celebrated “World Press Freedom Day,” the Belizean media would be the recipient of a tongue-lashing from the chairman of the Senate Select Committee, Senator Aldo Salazar.
Today, Salazar turned his attention to the media even before the Senate inquiry into the scandals at the Immigration Department commenced.
The source of his indignation was a photo gone viral off the laptop of Senator Pastor Ashley Rocke, which had an open screen of Facebook instead of a soft copy of the Auditor General’s Special Audit, as was seen on the laptops of his colleagues.
Additionally, the photo captured Rocke with his cellphone in hand. He had alternated his focus between his laptop and cellphone for almost the whole duration of last Wednesday’s hearing.
Clearly, Rocke was not paying much attention to the Senate hearing.
Readers will recall that last Wednesday’s hearing saw three witnesses, including alleged visa agent, Barton Middleton, who, according to the audit, sold stolen visas to the Belize City Council’s Financial Controller, Patrick Tillett, and former Belize City Deputy Mayor, Eric Chang.
Salazar did not reprimand Rocke for not attending to the people’s business, for which he is paid by taxpayers; he instead condemned the media.
“I was made to understand that somebody took an image of the screen of one of our senators, on his personal either computer or device he was using and disseminated it via social media. I just want to ask, members of the media to please conduct yourselves with civility and decorum that is required by responsible journalism,” said Senator Salazar.
He continued, “I know that some of us might find it difficult to contain our rabid political prejudices and other prejudices, but please let us not allow that to detract from our professionalism.”
According to an irate Salazar, his pronouncements should be considered the first and only warning. If it falls on deaf ears, Salazar explained that the Senate Select Committee would have to consider disallowing members of the media from attending the hearings, even though the terms of reference explicitly state that hearings should be opened to the public.
During today’s hearing, the home screen of Rocke’s laptop was opened to the Auditor General’s Special Audit. Our newspaper asked him for a comment on this matter, but he declined.