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May 29, 2001

Seminar questions media role in children’s rights

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The subject of children was the focus of a seminar this morning and News 5′s Ann-Marie Williams, along with several of her media colleagues, wore the twin hats of reporter–and participant.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

A wide cross-section of Belizeans who work with children converged on the Radisson this morning to renew their commitment to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Belize ratified in 1990.

A large part of the renewal involved presentations directed to the media’s coverage or a lack thereof of news stories involving children. Attorney Marilyn Williams says the media needs to be responsible and a lot more sensitive in its reporting.

Marilyn Williams, Attorney

“I have seen headlines in the newspapers where a young man, who had committed suicide in jail; his picture was on the front page of a newspaper with this noose around his neck. Now I would like to asked what was gained by putting that picture in the newspaper?”

Williams feels that there is a great lack of respect for the convention.

Marilyn Williams

“Our newspapers in Belize have shown a marked lack of respect of the rights of the child. I don’t believe that they needed the Convention of the Rights of the Child or the Families and Children’s Act to have pointed out what needed to have been done in order to protect children. If what is at the core of our existence is an interest to protect the rights of the child, we ought to be guided by common sense and our innate feeling of right and wrong.”

And what is right or wrong is relative. Case in point: when we at Channel 5 checked with NOPCA before naming the three students, who were key witnesses in the recent killing at Raul’s Rose Garden, we were told by NOPCA’s Executive Director that there is nothing in the law to prevent us from naming names.

Today we were informed otherwise as some participants choose to give a broad interpretation of section 150 subsection 4 of the Families and Children’s Act.

Marilyn Williams

“If the court is satisfied that the welfare of the child requires it, so it’s not saying that there must be court proceedings. What I’m saying is that this section in its entirety is written so broadly that it is not limited only to court proceedings. So in any instance where a child is involved on any level, and the media is going to deal with it, they have that responsibility.”

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Dev.

“The section is wide enough that the matter does not actually have to be before the court. Any matter that could potentially be before a court because children are involved, is I believe, covered by the section. And as I said earlier, it’s wide enough to cover an alleged perpetrator, a victim, or even a witness.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“We should be at least trying to speak with one voice. And if the Solgen’s Office is saying one thing and somebody else is saying one thing, and all these things are going on, I think we need to at least have a proper interpretation, a proper understanding about the laws, have something on the books, so that no media house can basically say “well we will call their name or we won’t do it.” I don’t think it should be a discretionary thing. I think it’s too important to be left to somebody’s discretion.”

N.C.F.C.’s chairperson Myrtle Palacio says the media has today redefined many relationships in society.

Myrtle Palacio, Chairperson, N.C.F.C.

“the role of the media is crucial to the issue of child protection, both in terms of how the media cover or distort the issue and how the media may be used as a tool to raise awareness.”

And perhaps the ultimate awareness has to do with children knowing their rights…and the responsibilities that come with those rights. Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

The penalties for breaking section four of the Families and Children’s Act includes a maximum fine of five thousand dollars or up to one year in her majesty’s prison.

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