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Oct 14, 1998

B.C.B. prepares to shut down Oct. 30

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The Broadcasting Corporation of Belize has gone through a number of name changes in its more than half century of existence, but by the end of this month, it will be called anything except alive. News Five’s Patrick Jones, himself a former B.C.B. employee, looks at how the winding down process is going.

After eight years as a statutory body, and over fifty as a government department, the country’s oldest radio station, Radio Belize is making its final curtain call. According to Minister of Broadcasting Mark Espat, draft legislation that would “wind up” the B.C.B. is almost complete and should be presented to the House of Representatives shortly.

Mark Espat, Minister of Broadcasting

“We see this as a unique opportunity to fulfill a manifesto promise in a very speedy manner to boost the free media in Belize, to save government millions of dollars and also to allow us to focus on other areas of priority with the money that we save from this effort.”

Savings which Espat estimates would be in the region of two point five million dollars over the next five years. That money he said could be better spent in other areas, like education and health.

Patrick Jones

“Despite the favored status that the corporation enjoyed since its creation on September twenty first 1990, it was never able to “earn its keep”. Of course it didn’t help that at the same time the bills began to pile up, the ratings began to plummet.”

Mark Espat

“Well, the fact of the matter is Patrick, that in spite of tax exemptions across the board, in spite of almost a half a million dollars in subsidy, in spite of almost a monopoly in government business, the Broadcasting Corporation of Belize could not even break even, so to speak. It was loosing money. We’re facing right now a two hundred thousand dollar bill, from the Belize Electricity Limited. We hope to be able to reconcile the accounts receivables and payables at the end of this process and work with those people that the B.C.B. owes and hopefully collect from those people that owe us, owe the Broadcasting Corporation of Belize we should say.”

The corporation’s assets, which don’t seem to be very plentiful, are being appraised and will be auctioned off later to try and repay some of the outstanding debts. While the Radio Belize and Friends FM transmitters will fall silent on October thirtieth, Minister Espat told News Five that the audience will not be left out in the cold, as steps are being taken to ensure that other stations, both radio and television, fill the gap.

Mark Espat

“Right now legislation is in place and the Broadcasting Authority of Belize which is a body that falls under the Ministry of Information, as part of its responsibilities, should be looking at public programming and indeed at the programming of all television and radio stations. And so there are laws in the books, unfortunately the Broadcasting Authority’s board has been used in a political way in the past, we hope to change this and we will be announcing shortly the full membership of that board which is headed by Attorney Philip Zuniga.

There is a need and as a matter of fact, in speaking with several of the radio operators, they have already started the process of allotting specific times for broadcast that would serve public interest, whether from an educational and cultural stand-point. And many of the stations do so as well. The talk-shows for example would be considered public broadcast quality and the process has started for other public broadcast shows and so we are happy with that situation.”

It’s a sad chapter in the history of this once mighty broadcasting giant. One that in retrospect, was written when the first private licenses were granted and the B.C.B. did not have the leadership to respond. Patrick Jones for News Five.

Most of the technical and professional employees at B.C.B. have already found new employment and while the task is proving more difficult for administrative staff, a government committee is working hard to place them. Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow has presented an eleventh hour plan to keep the station open by selling shares to the public, but has failed to demonstrate why any investor would put money in a business that has shown itself to be totally incapable of making a profit.

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