GOB Says Channel 5 Now A PUP Party Organ

Yesterday government made an unprecedented announcement; that it is suspending normal relations with Channel 5. The directive is that, effective immediately; no government representative of any ministry or department will give any official individual interview or make any individual appearance on Channel 5.

Government says Channel 5 has failed to live up to the terms of its license which require that its news be, quote: "objective and impartial… (ensuring) a right of reply." Government says it has been denied that right of reply and so it's pulling the plug on Channel 5.

A blockade of an entire media house seems to be uncharted territory - but today the Minister of Information John Saldivar told us via phone that it's nothing new; it is simply that channel 5 will now be treated as a party organ of the PUP:…

Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of information
"At this present time they are an organ of the People's United Party and again although Channel 5 does not openly admit this because of the nature of their ownership and the relationship between the owners and the current leader of the People's United Party and their determination to undermine this government, we are of the opinion that Channel 5 has become an official organ of the People's United Party."

Jules Vasguez
"This suspension on normal relations, how do you enforce that without throttling the free flow of information and the fact that public information needs to get out, needs to be ventilated."

Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of information
"I think if you go back to what I have said, the relationship will be no different from that which prevails with the Belize Times and the Vibes Radio so that it's simply that Channel 5 is now being considered an organ of the People's United Party. All the regular mundane correspondences, press releases that go out to continue to be issued to the public as per normal. We are simply saying that in terms of special courtesies with respect to personal interviews - exclusive interviews and reports that we will not treat with Channel 5 as we do the rest of the media and certainly we will treat with Channel 5 as we do the Belize Times and Vibes Radio."

Jules Vasguez
"But looking specifically at the wording of the release, it says "that effective immediately, no government representative of any ministry or department will give any official individual interview or make any individual appearance on Channel 5." How does this work, let's say for the Met Service which gives hurricane updates or extreme weather updates or the police department which gives public information on criminal activity. Will those people, those departments, will they not give individual interviews to channel 5?"

Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of information
"I am simply saying that the methods used by those departments in terms of disseminating public information will continue to prevail, so any public information that is sent out to any other media will continue to be sent out to all media."

Jules Vasguez
However, I spoke to Fitzroy Yearwood just now, he is the police press officer, he indicated that he will no longer be giving individual interviews to channel 5. He will take questions in a group or at a press conference."

Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of information
"And precisely Jules, that's what we are precisely saying that whatever information or whatever medium is used to communicate information to the media in a public manner is how it will continue to be with respect to all media not just Channel 5. Personal interviews, exclusive interviews or courtesies, those will no longer be extended to Channel 5. They will get their news and their releases and their information in the same manner that all other media get their information."

Jules Vasguez
"I don't understand your interpretation of 'courtesies.' I am not seeing an interview with the Met Department when a storm is approaching as a courtesy, I see it as a public information necessity."

Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of information
"And where it is categorized as a public relations necessity I am sure the appropriate action will be taken, I am simply saying to you that where it is considered a courtesy and not something of public importance in terms of a disaster, certainly we will use the regular chains of communications. If they can show that they are not totally biased and without any consideration for objectivity - an official organ of the People's United Party - I am sure that the government will be prepared to look at it. Similarly and I continue to ask the question, are we expected as government ministers to do interviews for Vibes Radio or Belize Times and I am sure your answer to that will be no and so unless we believe that Channel 5 is not an organ of the People's United Party I don't see why we should treat them any differently from how we do the Belize Times or Vibes Radio."

Jules Vasguez
"How would it work with the government press conferences or with the Prime Minister's press conferences? Will this, media house be invited to the press conference? Will questions be taken from them?"

Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of information
"I am sure you are aware that employees of Vibes Radio do attend Prime Minister's press conferences and are allowed to ask questions, however stupid they may be."

Jules Vasguez
"Is it somewhat uncomfortable for the government to have to take a position like this?"

Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of information
"We are not uncomfortable any at all about taking this position; we believe it has to be made clear in the minds of the Belizean people exactly the agenda that the Channel 5 people are pushing."

Government's position is that Channel 5 can remedy the situation if the complies with the law and conforms to the established standards and principles of fair and objective journalism and programming.

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