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PM calls for media ?self-regulation?

The Prime Minister, Hon. Said Musa, made the call for ?self-regulation? on Wednesday, at the opening ceremony for a three-day Annual General Assembly the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) is hosting in Placencia, South Stann Creek.

On July 27, 2004, the Government had announced that Silvana Woods, who is well known in media circles, was appointed the BBA?s new chair, and high on the agenda would be the development of a 12-month plan.

According to the press release, the plan would cover a review of existing licenses, exploration of self-regulation mechanisms, perhaps through the Belize Media Association – a largely inactive organization, and re-landscaping of existing frequencies.

However, the Prime Minister this week made a specific declaration about the BBA?s task, saying that, ?The role of the BBA must be to foster a climate for self-regulation within the industry.? (Emphasis ours.)

He called for a radio broadcast association and a TV broadcast association, ?which, among other things, can assist more stations in accessing CBU, and contributing to the regional look and sound of Belize.? {Only two sections of the media belong to the CBU: Great Belize Productions (Channel 5) and R.S.V. Limited (Love FM).}

The last time the Government promoted the formation of an industry association, the matter ended up with a court challenge, and a ruling on the case by the Chief Justice, Sir Abdulai Conteh, is still pending.

In January, the Government of Belize established an act to make the Belize Petroleum Haulers? Association ?the only legal entity to conduct the business of petroleum haulage? in Belize. Proponents for the law claim that regulation in the industry is necessary, and that the law was fashioned to protect the interests of the haulers. However, four petroleum haulers, who do not want to join the association, have challenged that view.

They claim that they were initially denied licenses to conduct their business, and were later told that their existing licenses would not be renewed if they do not join the association and surrender their existing contracts with the oil companies. The haulers have resisted, and have sought legal redress on what they claim is a breach of their constitutional rights.

We are not sure what the proposed ?self-regulation? formula for the broadcast industry will be. Currently, there are 51 transmitting frequencies licensed to 25 radio stations, according to the Government. Additionally, there are 12 broadcast television stations and 28 cable stations.

While he said that he supports the freedom of the media, the Prime Minister further remarked, in his nationally broadcasted address today, that, ?The problem I see is when the freedom of the press becomes a license to vilify and scandalize; when institutions and authority are so debased that cynicism becomes the order of the day; that soon as a community we are consumed with hatred and mistrust.?

Most recently, the Government has come under fire for using over $6 million of Social Security funds?public funds?to pay the loans of a former ruling party politician, who is now a banker and attorney.

The issue made the headlines on the two national TV newscasts on Tuesday night. In both instances, the Prime Minister was interviewed and the verbal and non-verbal manner in which he handled one media house differed remarkably from the manner in which he handled the other.

He said to Channel 5?s acting news director, Janelle Chanona, in a segment of the interview: ?I take your point; we are not doing enough in explaining to the people. Part of the thing is that we are going through a process and until things are fully settled, it?s no point just rushing to the media and say this is the story.?

Shortly after Chanona interviewed the Prime Minister, Jules Vasquez, news director of Channel 7 News, one of the first media that broke the story on the questionable use of public funds last week, questioned the Prime Minister on a $20 million loan that the Social Security Board had made to the struggling communications company, Intelco, and the pending sale of Intelco to Jeffrey Prosser, the multi-millionaire who recently bought controlling interest in the Belize Telecommunications Limited.

In the interview, Vasquez, who is known to be very aggressive in his questioning, pointedly asked the Prime Minister: ?Is there not an inherent contradiction when you divested SSB?s holdings in BTL? You explained, at the time, that the actuary advised that in the telecom industry there is not much of a future so?it is wise to divest holdings, but at the same time?with the same SSB money, you are investing in a startup un-proven company.

?Is there not an inherent contradiction in there and does it not manifest that you all were at all times operating to assist Glenn, your friend?

The Prime Minister responded: ?That?s a pretty good speech you just gave, but I don?t think it?s valid.

?I don?t see any inherent contradiction as you said. First of all you are taking things out of context, two different time frames we dealing with?? (We shortened the reply for brevity.)

When he spoke at the CBU opening today, the Prime Minister made sure to point out that Channel 5, whose owner is CBU vice president, Stewart Krohn, has been objective, while Channel 7 has been openly hostile towards him and his Government.

Notably, the first time Channel 5 ran the story regarding the Social Security funds? questionable use was last night, five days after it had made the national headlines on radio, print, and television, and had been posted on the worldwide web.

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