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Oct 18, 2017

P.M. Plays Peacemaker, But Police Rebelled against Media Interviews

Wilfred Elrington

It has now been over a month since any member of the Police Department last gave an on-camera interview to the press concerning criminal matters, not counting Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie. In that time, by our count, there have been eighteen murders reported countrywide, no less than a dozen of them in Belize City and particularly the south side. The department has restricted itself to press releases and occasional press conferences, and today the Minister of Home Affairs, Wilfred Elrington, confirmed that this will be the practice for the foreseeable future. He claimed that it was not the media boycotting police, but the other way around, as a result of fears over prematurely giving away leads under investigation.  But in all those murder cases, just three arrests have been reported. While Minister Elrington was implacable, his boss the Prime Minister tried to play peacemaker today despite his own avowed issues with the press. He insisted that the free press does have its role to play in our democracy.

 

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Home Affairs

“It is not my understanding that there is a boycott between the police and the media; in fact, we had decided on a new policy where we thought it was more appropriate for us to give to the media press releases, and when the occasion warranted it, we thought, we would hold press conferences. So we held a press conference with respect to the last incident, when the boy [Kelvin] Usher gone lost, remember? We called a press conference because we thought that was appropriate. I have difficulty with the media having members of the police giving extensive statements to the media, on a nightly basis on almost every channel, on matters that are live before the court or matters that are under investigation. I think it unnecessarily scares the public, local as well as international, and many times the investigations are ongoing, much of what is said is speculation, and so I don’t think it helps the society, I think it does more harm than good. So I prefer for us to notify the public as to what is transpiring by means of press releases and if it is warranted we do press conferences.”

 

Dean Barrow

Isani Cayetano

“Respectfully, sir, it is a departure from all the groundwork that had been accomplished between the media and the Police Department in terms of hammering out a manual and a general approach that would have worked for both parties. You’re saying essentially…”

 

Wilfred Elrington

“My appointment as Minister is a departure as well. I operate differently, and I like to be able to operate the way I do. But you will readily agree – all of you will readily agree – that whenever I am asked to talk to the media, I do. I never dodge the media; you find me anywhere. As a matter of fact, sometimes I think Isani lives at my house, because he’s always there getting stories: at the airport, at home, and I am still available. But I really don’t think and the members of the Police are really not happy with the attitude of the press in terms of the insistence on having individual police officers giving interviews in extenso on matters that are under investigation.”

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“We are concerned and I have said that it is the duty of the Government to treat you well, despite the fact that it seems to be the obligation of you and your fellows to treat the Government badly. (Applause) But that is the way it is. So in a democracy, I am completely with you that the press should never be excluded. And I make the appeal because it is something that we’ve talked about and I know that I am not in any way going against the position of my colleagues. We will sort out that business of the disruption of relations between the media and the Police.”

 

Elrington further claimed that the police’s data conflicts with our count but the usual quarterly crime statistics have not been released to back up his claims.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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