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Understanding Freedom of the Press

Understanding Freedom of the Press

The Freedom of the Press refers to the right to report news or circulate information without censorship from the government. In a democratic society, the media, often described as the fourth estate, carries the mandate of holding governments accountable. However, in a recent cabinet meeting, a piece of legislation was approved for submission that seeks to criminalize the unauthorized publication or disclosure of videos, photos or statements that are part of an ongoing criminal investigation, which may endanger the lives of witnesses or compromise the integrity of an investigation. If approved, will this legislation hinder the freedom of the press in the country? How will this affect the landscape of reporting in Belize. News Five’s Britney Gordon explores those questions in this week’s Five-point Breakdown. Here is that report.


Britney Gordon, Reporting

The role of the media is to relay accurate information to the public, acting as a forum for the discussion of important issues and to point a critical lens at the government and other institutions. It is through the media that the public becomes aware of the daily injustices occurring around them that would otherwise fly under the radar. In a recent case, a video depicting a child being abused by his stepfather was circulated online, sparking public outrage. The police were swift to apprehend the perpetrator, who was prosecuted by Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams. Every day, videos, pictures, and testimonies with stories like these are shared to the media with the intention of creating a mouthpiece for the truth.



Chester Williams

                              Chester Williams

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police

“I can’t say what I want to say publicly but when I first saw the video, the first thing came to my mind was, is this really Belize? That’s the first thing that came to my mind. And then the next thing that came to my mind, is this actually a person? Is this person a man? I don’t know, but the level of abuse that thing I put for that child is disgusting and it should be condemned in its greatest term. No child should be subjecting to such abuse.”




However, there is a change looming. Recently, the cabinet approved the submission of legislation that seeks to criminalize the publication of videos, photos or statements that are part of an ongoing investigation. Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa said that this legislation aims to protect the lives of witnesses and avoid compromising ongoing investigations.







Kareem Musa

                                  Kareem Musa

Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs

“Like I said, many times these things make their rounds on social media and mainstream media even before police officers arrive at the scene. And so we have to be very mindful and understanding of that because yes, the media is smart enough to know that particular video will be the subject of a criminal investigation because you can see the perpetrators in that particular video. But I think move, like I said, moving forward from the point of an investigator coming on the scene and investigating a particular crime. If it is that video footage is a critical part of the evidence forms a critical part of the evidence, then a classification will have to be made on a notice put out to the media and to other individuals that this video ought not to be circulated.”


The announcement of this legislation raised eyebrows among several members of the media, who use these videos to tell the stories that the public have the right to hear and see. Former police corporal Elmer Nah will stand trial for a triple-murder committed in 2022. The New Year’s Eve incident swept through the nation, as there was surveillance footage capturing the moment just before the deadly shootings occurred. Without this footage, much of the story would have been lost. Several in-house systems already exist within media to avoid compromising ongoing investigations.  Isani Cayetano, Channel Five’s News Director, shares his concerns about the proposed classification system.





Isani Cayetano

                      Isani Cayetano

Isani Cayetano, News Director, Channel 5

“The primary concern that I would have and I would presume that my colleagues in the media would have is one, the protection of sources, particularly when they provide sensitive information to us for our respective newscasts or for the publications that are either weekly or biweekly. I think being able to have the kind of confidence in our sources and the ease for them to be able to share information with us is paramount. When you look at what the proposed amendment seeks to do, the question is whether that impinges on our freedom to exchange information.”



This concern is reaffirmed by News Director Jules Vasquez, who says that it is something that must be carefully examined before it is approved.


Jules Vasquez

                       Jules Vasquez

Jules Vasquez, News Director, Tropical Belize Productions

“It does portend to have a chilling effect because once you penalize the dissemination of information, especially pictures and video, you are starting to get into a very, to me, a very shady area or a very suspect area that could have an effect or could act as a fetter on the freedom of the press and anything that threatens to do that. We have to oppose my specific concern with it is that many times we receive videos or surveillance videos or pictures of certain crime situations. And you know, you operate in a newsroom we use our very deliberate judgment to protect witnesses, to protect children, to protect the innocent, et cetera.”





Ensuring the safety of the public is a primary concern for the media which is why there are regulations set by the Belize Broadcasting Authority. Louis Wade, who sits on the board, told us that the problem is not solely with the media.







Louis Wade

                            Louis Wade

Louis Wade, Board Member, Belize Broadcasting Authority

“When the media looks at a particular story, most of the journalist are already trained on how to put that story forward to ensure that we do not tamper with any process that is in the court or we do put the life of witnesses at risk. However, the media plays a very important role on behalf of the government or police, but on behalf of the people because the people have a right to know.”






Belize’s constitution currently does not include a freedom of the press act, but the does protect the freedom of expression which permits the communication of ideas and information without interference. However, it further states that provisions are made to protect the lives and rights off those involved with legal proceedings. Darrell Bradley, attorney at law spoke with us about how a legislation like this can be drafted without infringing on the freedom of the press.


Darrell Bradely

                             Darrell Bradley

Darrell Bradley, Attorney at Law

“There’s nothing in principle that is wrong with wanting to protect witnesses and wanting to protect information that may damage or cause any kind of safety concerns to a particular witness. But you want that to be limited because you want to ensure that the laws are not used in a way that would promote censorship.”




Britney Gordon for News Five.

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