The journalists of the BBC World Service were my teenage media heroes. From its powerful radio relay station on Antigua in the Caribbean, the BBC would reach an audience of millions throughout Central, Latin and North America. Here was London, calling out to the rest of the world with some of the finest programming and bravest voices.
All this was happening long before any meaningful television signal had arrived in Belize. And the internet was still a couple of decades away. Back then, the only local broadcaster on air was the government-owned and operated Radio Belize —a station that desperately needed to be unshackled from its colonial undertones.
From my parents’ two-storey home in western Belize, I would tune in daily on the international radio frequencies so as to listen to the world news and recorded programs. My favorite show was Science in Action. And I would punish myself if I missed the Queen’s Speech at Christmas time.
But the BBC offered so much more than just programming for science fans or diplomats or intellectuals. The Beeb, as it is affectionately called, was for everyone. And it still is.
COVID-19 was predicted decades ago by epidemiologists interviewed on the BBC World Service. I wonder how these scientists feel today about their prophetic warnings so many years ago. Sour race relations in the United States, political influences of the South American drug cartels, climate change, giant leaps in medicine and many other topics were dissected on the BBC talk shows back then. And this wide-eyed teenager was eagerly listening, along with millions of other people.
When reliable internet became available worldwide, I like to think that the BBC truly became “unplugged”. Not only were we able to hear the journalists, but we could also see their faces. We could view images of the world in full color, whether they were blood-red, sky-blue, dirt-brown or the blackest black. Reliable internet meant the world could join the ride and experience the devastation of wars, the suffering of poor people caused by corporate greed, the struggles of men and women against nature on this hostile planet, and more.
European slavery and colonialism in Africa, Asia and on the shores of the Americas became vivid realities via the internet. Finally, the whole world could see online images of bloody massacres and disgusting deeds like those featured in the Amandala newspaper of June 19, 2020. Mutilations, decapitations, rape, unprovoked torture and raw savagery against unarmed inhabitants all came to life.
The “Unplugged BBC” never shied away from bringing these disgusting images and their corresponding true stories to its worldwide audience. Need I say more than we are grateful to the journalists, editors and presenters for doing so. How else will we heal the world but by sharing the truth?
Today, my media heroes are the Belizean journalists and broadcast presenters who, through their work, ensure that we have freedom of expression and freedom of the press. These freedoms are so critical to a troubled nation like ours where abuse of authority and disregard for human life have taken root.
My champions of democracy include: Paul and Louis, Troy and Darrell, Ya-ya and Parks, Marion and Audrey, Wil and Isani. They all keep the freedom candle burning with their critical questions and daring revelations of those in authority.
And of course, there is Marisol Amaya. Who could forget Marisol? When the little lady from KREM was dragged to the ground and almost hammered, she took a “bitch-lick” for all freedom-loving people of Belize. It is a day we must never forget.
True democracy is earned; it isn’t given to you. Our Belizean journalists, just like my one-time heroes of the BBC, have earned their places in history as modern fighters who make personal sacrifices so as to preserve this sweet Belizean freedom. We are grateful.