Following today’s House meeting, the Prime Minister, was asked about his decision to impose censorship on Channel Five. He provided a lengthy reply which we carry in full.
“Well they’re here, aren’t they?”
“Is that a reconsideration of that ending of normal relations?”
“Well, not at this time, but let’s be clear as to what the government has done. Channel Five is not being locked out of any kind of public space that’s controlled by the government. The clerk said to me this morning, well, “Is Channel Five allowed into the House?” Absolutely. Their programme, what’s it called? That they use the Bliss Centre for – nobody’s going to deny them their access to the Bliss. In a context like this, nobody’s going to say – I’m not going to say I’m not going to talk to the Channel Five representatives. But I do maintain that I’ll give no personal, individual interview to Channel Five and that is the position of all the Ministers. And I do maintain that members of the government are not to do it except in obvious circumstances. This is not black and white. Somebody me whether people can’t talk to Channel Five about the weather. That would be ridiculous. I am open with the press and I have nothing to hide. But Channel 5 has been terribly unfair, terribly – when it comes to the way they treat the government – unprofessional. I don’t care about their political agenda, but in the same way as Belize Times and Vibes Radio, don’t seek interviews with us. If Channel Five will operate in the same way, then they ought not to seek interviews with us, and if they do, we will not give those interviews. I had thought, while Channel Five clearly has an agenda, that they would make some attempt to be reasonably balanced where reporting on government news was concerned. That was not the case and I really felt that this move was necessary to let the public know that Channel Five can’t have it both ways. It can’t be operating under the guise of a professional, independent news outfit when it is so clearly engaging in an absolutely biased agenda. Once that is out there, we can go back to seeing how we can do business. The C.B.U., I think in their statement said they would be happy to attempt some kind of mediation. I’ve told the Minister of Foreign Affairs call C.B.U. They want to send somebody to talk to you or they want to arrange for some meeting when you’re in the Caribbean. We’ll be very happy to let them sit down with the government and Channel Five and if they can produce some kind of commitment on the part of Channel Five to be reasonably fair, while continue to some extent with their political agenda, that is their right. If C.B.U. can produce that, we would be happy to go back to where we were before. In the meantime, Channel Five has a right to its political agenda; we have a right to our position, that as long as that political agenda is so obvious and uncompromising we will not do individual interviews with them.”
“Just in the interest of answering the questions in the minds of our viewers where we breached or we violated some regulation. We’ve heard the response from our C.E.O., Miss Amalia Mai, and we’ve heard the allegations by the government. Can you please tell us…”
“You know the point was made in one of the releases that was put out that if Channel Five is in violation of the Act then a complaint should be made to the Broadcasting Authority. Certainly in terms of the refusal initially to air the government programme, to give us the hour that the law obliges Channel Five to give, a complaint could have been made to the Broadcasting Association. Channel Five must realize that we are adopting a far softer approach. If you complain to the Broadcasting Authority, sorry, you’re asking for sanctions to be imposed. You’re asking perhaps for the revocation of a license to be contemplated. That I will not do. I will never make that complaint because I do not want to see Channel Five’s license terminated, even if Channel 5 is in clear violation of the law. I don’t want to see their license terminated. So please, recognize that while you might not like the position we’ve taken, that’s an extremely soft position, merely to say to you we noh di give yoh individual interviews, but not to be extreme, not to be rude, not to try to lock you out. Very, very soft approach.”
There are two issues that we wish to respond to. Firstly, the PM claims that we have treated the government terribly and that we are unprofessional. We take issue with that statement because in our news gathering, we have always sought to get the two sides of the coin. In many instances government ministers have denied us interviews and certainly the government can never say that we have ever denied them a right of reply. Quite the contrary, they have always had access to this station. Secondly, the Prime Minister is complaining that we were in breach of the conditions of the license because we did not carry Belmopan Weekly. For clarity, we have broadcasted that program even though the terms of the license state that the time of broadcast has to be done in consultation with us. Even when that did not happen, we carried the program. This information was provided to the press office and copied to the Broadcasting Authority and we do not agree that we have breached the conditions of license. Still yet, we are open to any discussions on this issue. We’ll have more on the House later in this newscast.