Editorial - Censoring the Press San Pedro Sun
On December 7th the Government of Belize (GOB) issued a press release stating, "The Belizean public is hereby informed that, effective immediately, the Government of Belize is suspending normal relations with Channel 5 and Great Belize Productions." In the press release, a litany of Belize Broadcasting and Television Act violations were listed, but to a watchful eye it is easy to read between the lines; the GOB doesn't want their dirty laundry aired.
Hours later, media houses across the country were buzzing and statements countrywide were being released denouncing the Government's stance against Channel 5. The PUP Opposition and CTV-3, to name a few, were fast to denounce the GOB's blatant voice against the freedom of press, purporting the virtues of a free democracy and the essential part the press plays in it. There is no doubt that the outcry against the GOB press release is more than valid, and few would argue that the GOB was justified in taking such a stance against one of the most prominent media houses in the country. Although the issue of media censorship is a hot topic right now, the truth of the matter is that on a daily basis, media houses across the country struggle with maintaining their freedom of press "privilege", and in San Pedro it is no different.
A day rarely goes by when The San Pedro Sun is not subjected to requests to edit our news. From the pot head who's been busted and does not want his name to be printed in the police report, to the local official caught in a "compromising" situation, to the resort manager who has had a questionable death on his property; they come into our office or call, begging, pleading, bribing, sometimes threatening to withhold their ‘precious' advertising dollars, even threatening bodily harm in a effort to CENSOR the news we are committed to printing. The bullying starts from the little man on up, so why should we be surprised when the GOB does the same thing? It is ironic how the people speak in favor of FREEDOM OF PRESS, only when it does not include THEIR bad news.
Over the years The San Pedro Sun has been threatened bodily harm after printing unsavory articles about certain island residents. Over the years The San Pedro Sun has lost valuable customers who have pulled their advertising dollars after we reported their accidents, indiscretions and even deaths that implicate their businesses. Over the years The San Pedro Sun has lost cherished friendships with lifelong friends after reporting on their "misfortune."
It's tough when we have to make the choice over news and our friends, advertisers and even family at times, but how can we maintain our reputation as fair and unbiased media house, if on every occasion the relationship at hand outweighs the news our readers deserve to know? It's tough when that longtime friend will no longer look at you on the street and its tough when that longtime advertiser will no longer return your calls, and yes it's tough when you have to watch over your shoulder when someone has threatened to shoot you after they have been exposed in a news story.
Ultimately, each and every one of these people or businesses has taken it upon themselves to censor the news in order to conceal the truth. How is that any different from the GOB's stance? On one hand, the people demand that the press have the right to freely print the news, where on the other hand, if it's not to their liking it should end up on the editing floor? This double-standard is a dangerous attitude that threatens the essence of democracy and the freedom of press should be protected regardless of who the ugly story is about.