From the legal standpoint, the publisher of a newspaper is held responsible by the Government of Belize. The publisher must sign two copies of each issue of the newspaper he publishes, and send them to the Attorney General’s office. If there is any seditious or defamatory material in an issue of the newspaper, and any type of lawsuit ensues, then the signed copies of that newspaper will be adduced as evidence to establish the publisher’s responsibility in court.
Newspapers are centuries old, a relatively ancient industry, compared to the social media sharing of news which has been enabled by the Internet for the last two to three decades. There appears to be no legal responsibility for the news and opinions which are posted on the social media network by individuals who often act under the cover of anonymity. The social media is a news and opinion landscape which is not properly policed.
Professional responsibility for the quality and standards of the material in the newspaper lies with the editor-in-chief. Under his authority and jurisdiction are reporters, photographers, and proofreaders. Readers submit letters to the editor for his perusal and approval. He or she must also process columns, contributed articles, press releases, advertisements, and so on.
It may be that the most important aspect of a newspaper is the headline, from the standpoint that the headline influences impulsive readers to buy, thus positively influencing the revenue accumulation of the newspaper and enabling the business to pay its bills, meet its payroll, and improve its technology. In the case of an established newspaper, there will be a core of readers who will buy the newspaper no matter what, because of the reputation which the publication enjoys and because of customer loyalty.
In times of crisis, whether local or national, on the other hand, the most important aspect of the newspaper is the editorial, wherein the publisher and the editorial board of the newspaper express serious opinions and take responsible stands on the pressing issue(s) of the moment.
On a regular basis, letter writers and columnists also express opinions in a newspaper, but these are signed and bylined, respectively. It is therefore clear to the readers that the opinions are not those of the newspaper as such. Sometimes an opinion may be so controversial that the newspaper may feel compelled to state that such an opinion is not the newspaper’s opinion.
We are living in increasingly contentious times in Belize. In fact, in the case of this particular newspaper, we are part of a communications system which has grown to include a radio station and a television station. There are a lot of opinions being expressed at Kremandala on a daily and weekly basis, and Kremandala has survived because the people of Belize appreciate the freedom of expression inside our system. Ours is not a monolithic system, and the freedom of our system has inspired a creativity of thought and conversation which is cherished by Belizeans who are analytical and insightful.
About a quarter of a century ago, a member of the Kremandala family was invited into electoral politics by the People’s United Party (PUP). Strictly speaking, a media house should stay as far away from party politics as possible. You should understand, however, that the early survival of this newspaper was assured by a partnership with the said PUP, mainly in the person of a young attorney turned party politician who had successfully defended the Amandala publishers in the Supreme Court in 1970 on a sedition charge.
The story is a long one, our journey a complex exercise. Partridge Street does media, and Partridge Street has an involvement with party politics, from time to time. In 1992, Partridge Street even invested in semi-pro basketball and football as entertainment industries. The Kremandala landscape became even more diverse when an executive member was elected to lead a powerful trade union earlier this year.
In last Tuesday’s issue of Amandala, there were opinions expressed in a headline story which were not editorial opinions, and which spoke in partisan terms about a development which involved the political and trade union sides of Kremandala. This particular development has been building in emotional tension for months now, and it has become a problem. There is no other way to say it. We have a problem. This is a challenge.
It is reassuring to know, as we do, that this newspaper has a support base amongst the people of Belize which has been steadfast for decades. Our support base has always been steadfast at crunch time. There are occasions when we have stumbled, as human beings do, but time has established our sincerity, our relevance, and our love.
With that said, we find the ending of one of our editorials written some while ago to sound the perfect notes in this time of travail. “The historical truth is that we started out with nothing except the support of the people, and we always knew, and still know, that this way is a hard way and this road is a rough road. Thus, and therefore, we trod on.”
Power to the people.