Belize City from the air. The former capital city of Belize remains the HQ of choice for most media outlets, although there are radio, television, online and print media in other parts of the country.

Reality, responsibility and restraint: The three Rs for journalism in Belize

By Holly Edgell

Those who know me know that Belize, land of my birth, is never far from my mind. And, because of my profession, journalism in Belize is also something I think about a lot.

Since independence from Great Britain in 1981, Belize has seen it’s media offerings grow from a handful of weekly newspapers and a government-run radio station to what seems like a vast and continuously proliferating ecosystem that includes:

  • at least half a dozen television stations that offer local news and talk shows
  • about the same number of newspapers as ever (one now comes out twice a week)
  • news websites
  • blogs providing news and views

There are at least six radio stations–that I know of–airing local news, and there are more than fifty radio licensees on the government books (not all operational yet).

On the social media scene, Belizeans are all over Facebook and are testing the Twitter waters; many media outlets have a presence in these spaces as well. Tourism industry professionals have been particularly active in social networking and blogging, using these platforms to spread the good word about Belize as a tourism destination.

Recently, Facebook users and bloggers in Belize have been active in the search for a missing girl and very vocal in criticizing Belizean law enforcement about their handling of the case. I’ve also been impressed by the support Belizean First Lady Kim Simplis Barrow has received from Facebook communities as she battles breast cancer.

And so, and this point in time, a country of about 300,000 has a bounty of news sources operating in a free and dynamic mass media environment, not to mention a vigorous and vibrant social media scene. It goes without say that being unfettered by the government is a positive for journalists, but that leaves the profession with the onus of setting its own rules. My colleagues in some countries (including developing nations) have reached consensus on codes of ethics and standards of professional practice.

More on Slideshare > In November 2011, I conducted a training session for journalists and other professional communicators with UNICEFand the University the West Indies, Open Campus, Belize. It focused on media coverage of children and youth. One session looked at international standards and ethics, with particular reference to Jamaica, South African and the United States.

Not so in Belize.

With more Belizeans demanding responsible, ethical and professional journalism the time is now to think critically and act constructively. No Belizean educational institution offers a degree in journalism or mass communication. For better or worse, most Belizean journalists learn their trade from colleagues and predecessors. There is no coherent journalism industry professional association–although there have been efforts to start one.

For now, I leave journalists with my own version of the three Rs:

  • Reality = The news is not pretty and there’s plenty of inherently bizarre, dismaying and cringe-inducing news to report.
  • Responsibility = Does freedom mean a no holds barred approach? Let it all hang out and let the chips fall where they may? (Apologies for triple cliche usage)
  • Restraint = Just because you can do something, should you?