Critics of the media in Belize say that the profession comes up short in the area of investigative journalism. The heroics of journalists in foreign countries, the lengths they go to research and bring the news to an eager populace, are not matched in Belize.
One of the most celebrated efforts of journalists led to the resignation of a US president, Richard Nixon. The names of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two journalists for the Washington Post, are held in the highest esteem in the US for the work they did to bring to light the break-in at the Watergate Hotel office of the Democratic Party in Washington D.C. in 1972. Five men, working for Nixon’s Republican Party, broke into the Watergate building to place bugs (surveillance equipment) in the office, and to search for documents, all to the end of gathering information that could help the reelection campaign of the sitting US president, Richard Milhous Nixon.
The so-called First World countries, especially the US, are often at war, and it is the work of those countries’ fine journalists that enlighten us, from their perspective, about what is happening on the ground in Iraq and Libya and Syria or wherever the armies of the Americans and their allies are engaged.
A number of Belizean journalists have done heroic work, and greatest among them are Philip Goldson and Leigh Richardson, who went to jail for their journalism. Belize does have a Who’s Who in journalism, but we are indeed limited in our capacity to research stories. In the area of investigative journalism the work of the fearless Melvin Flores, who reported for the Amandala in the 1980’s, might be the standard.
The demand that Belize’s journalists dig deeper to bring to light more of the hidden details, dig deeper to reveal all that lies below the tip of the iceberg, may be asking too much from the profession. One reason for Belizean journalists coming up short has to do with finances. Investigative journalism involves a lot of research, and that is an area that calls for major financial resources, something only the major political parties here seem to possess.
Belize is deficient in research in almost every arena. In agriculture, Belize is limited to field testing the work done by scientists at research stations in countries with a similar climate to ours. There’s much information that the Police Department has handled over the years— information on murders, rapes, robberies, other serious crimes, and traffic accidents—but there hasn’t been much research into the cause(s).
The Police Department’s energies are overtaxed by too many murders and too many traffic accidents, but of recent the Belize Crime Observatory has been making a good effort at putting out information on their website. It would serve Belize well if students at our universities studied the data that the Police Department has compiled and then produce papers that are relevant to our country.
If Belizean journalists didn’t have to be chasing after basic information, they might have the time to dig a little deeper. It is possible that some people wouldn’t want that. In fact, there are people in Belize who definitely don’t want journalists digging deeper, and prominent among them are the politicians who control government.
A second reason that our journalists don’t do more investigative work is that our country has become so corrupt, dangerously corrupt. Crooks are terrified of exposure, and we are generating many of those of recent. This newspaper lost a highly regarded journalist a few years ago, and the person(s) who killed him has not yet been brought to justice. Another brilliant talent of ours at Kremandala was bullied in the streets, by no less than police officers. We have seen political operatives act belligerently both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, territories that are considered to be as/nearly as sacred as churches.
We haven’t sunk to the depths yet, but we are now treading water. We cannot ignore the signs, particularly because the region we live in is the most dangerous area for journalists. “Twenty-two journalists were reported killed in the Latin America and Caribbean region in 2019, making it the deadliest part of the world for the press, followed by 15 in Asia-Pacific, and 10 in Arab States,” the United Nations reported on its website.
The think tank, Devdiscourse (Discourse on Development (devdiscourse.com)), said the UNESCO database, “Observatory of Killed Journalists,” reported that in the last decade “894 journalists were murdered, an average of almost 90 per year”, and that “UNESCO data shows that targeting local affairs, such as politics, corruption, and crime, is more dangerous for journalists than covering war zones.”
Politicians who are corrupt “attempt to silence critical voices and restrict public access to information”, UNESCO said, and apart from murder the organization has seen “a marked rise in imprisonment, kidnapping, and physical violence, amid widespread rhetoric hostile to the media and journalists.” Women in the media are targets “of online harassment, and face threats of gender-based violence”, UNESCO said.
There are people who actually find virtue in corruption. They are the people who thrive from the ill-gotten gains of corrupt leaders and their cronies. There are Belizeans who attempt to minimize the harm of corruption by limiting its cost to the dollar value of what was improperly gotten. The truth is that corruption negatively impacts a nation far beyond that.
Corruption impacts the national treasury through direct loss from stealing or through indirect loss from a soiled image which attracts dishonest investors and discourages honest ones. The “corrupt” dollar spent in the economy might have the same multiplier effect as an honest one, but the instability, disenchantment, and violent crime that come with the corrupt dollar far outweigh what is gained.
Corruption in our country didn’t start with the present administration, but it is our duty to make it end here, because the wage of corruption is death to a nation.
The best democracies in the world have media that are well-financed and, even more importantly, function where corruption is not tolerated or encouraged by government leaders. If we will make a great nation, we have to stomp out corruption.