Jamaica Observer:
Belize gov't muzzles TV station

Friday, December 10, 2010

BELIZE CITY, Belize (CMC) — The main opposition People's United Party (PUP) in Belize as well as a smaller group, the Vision Inspired by the People (VIP), have come out strongly against a government decision to boycott Belize's largest television station, Great Belize Television which broadcasts on channel 5.

In an unprecedented move, government announced Tuesday following a cabinet meeting that: "effective immediately, the Government of Belize is suspending normal relations with Channel 5 and Great Belize Productions".

It means that no government employee or minister of government will give any interviews to the station or appear on any programme produced by Great Belize Productions.

The government also claims that Channel 5 has violated the terms of its license by not airing the government produced current affairs programme Belmopan Weekly, a claim the station has refuted.

The announcement issued by the Office of the Prime Minster said the reason for severing ties with Channel 5 was that government considered Channel 5 to be hostile to the Dean Barrow administration.

The government is accusing Channel 5 of "systematically, over the last two-and-a-half years, undermining not only the government, but the interests of the entire nation".

It said the channel had sacrificed the principles of objectivity, fair play and balance in its news reporting and other programmes.

Given that stinging indictment, the government said it saw no reason to continue relations with Channel 5, adding that under the current ownership and management, there is no value or justification to maintain relations with the station, which has been in operation for the last 19 years.

The station is currently owned by British billionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft, with whom the Barrow administration has been in a fierce war since the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) took office in February 2008.

The station's day-to-day operation is managed by chief executive officer Amalia Mai-Rancharan, a former ambassador to Cuba.

In a strongly worded statement issued Wednesday, the main opposition PUP condemned the Government's decision. The PUP said the action can only be seen as "a vicious attempt to stifle freedom of the press".

PUP Leader John Briceño called for Belizeans to take the move by government as "a poorly masked attempt to suppress any criticism of Government's action and in so doing monopolise and dictate fact based public opinion".

The PUP maintains that if there was any legitimacy to the accusations by the UDP administration against Channel 5 and Great Belize Productions, the appropriate action should have been to lodge complaints with the Belize Broadcasting Authority.

This was not done and the PUP in its official release said "what the Government has done is to displace the functions of the Belize Broadcasting Authority and unilaterally, without processes of the law, installed themselves as judge and jury in this matter".

In a statement Tuesday, Great Belize Productions said: "Channel Five will continue to cover the news in a fair and objective manner. It is our obligation to the citizens of Belize to provide viewers with the information you need about the activities of the government. It is not our job to cover the government in the way it chooses or in a manner that does not reflect well on the truth."

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Belize-gov-t-muzzles-TV-station_8223513#ixzz17mXIRJoV

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