There is an important role in the life of a nation that is filled by the media. This role is so important that democracies recognize its value and, seek to provide a climate in which this institution flourishes as an independent influence on national affairs.
Society was once divided into four estates: The monarchy; the nobility; the church, and those engaged in providing news, information, views, opinions, etc., i.e. journalists. They were referred to as the Fourth Estate.
Therefore, when you spoke of the Fourth Estate, you were referring to the newspapers and other journals. Now, it is the print and audio/visual media.
I think a democracy is healthiest when the media’s influence is widely spread and, also, where it is independent of government. So that, for a country to have a government newspaper can’t be a good thing because, the expression of views and opinions would be unduly influenced by a need to serve the majority party’s interests. If there is an Opposition party newspaper, the same negatives apply.
The only good thing about political party newspapers is that they provide employment for journalists, who might otherwise be engaged in performing similar duties on the staff of the independent journals.
There would be no great loss to the reading public if the government and Opposition newspapers were closed down. The news and information items in these journals are covered more completely in the independent journals, which have to share the limited revenue derived from advertising, with the former.
The purpose of advertising is to reach as many viewers as possible, so, it is not good business to publish such material in partisan journals.
A party newspaper is useful in political campaigns and, in general electioneering, which, in Belize, it seems necessary to engage in from one election to the next, or to engage in character assassination and calumny. But, is it good business to establish and maintain a party newspaper when the same results can be obtained by other means at less cost?
Belize should have at least one daily newspaper. Our country would be better served if we did. All the personnel on the staff of the partisan newspapers could be absorbed if we had one or two daily newspapers. The political parties would be better served too, at less cost.
There is a wise saying which goes like this: Those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat their mistakes.
Here is a brief history of national newspapers in Belize. In the forties, there was only one newspaper, The Daily Clarion, edited and published by Mr. E. A. Laing. Actually the Clarion was born in 1936. We were a British colony and the Clarion supported the colonial establishment, though it qualifies as an independent newspaper.
In the mid-forties, Narciso Valdez began to publish a weekly newssheet, featuring cartoons of public figures under the title of “Oh Yeah.” “Oh Yeah” was put to rest when Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson joined up with Mr. Valdez to launch The Belize Billboard in 1950. Both young men, Richardson and Goldson, had chosen journalism as their career after they graduated from St. John’s and St. Michael’s Colleges, respectively, in the early forties. They were both officers in the recently formed People’s United Party. The Billboard surpassed the Clarion in circulation and influence in a few years. Though independently owned, it began to function as the voice of the People’s United Party and remained so until there was a split in the leadership of the PUP in 1956.
A faction in the PUP led by Goldson and Richardson supported a proposal by the British Government that Belize should be a part of a West Indian Federation. There were strong feelings over the question. The majority of the PUP leadership, which was against Federation, prevailed, and the Federation’s proponents were expelled from the party.
Goldson and Richardson then formed the Honduran Independence Party with the support of The Belize Billboard. Within a year the Honduran Independence Party joined with the National Party (the original opposition to the PUP) and formed the National Independence Party to become the main opposition to the government of the People’s United Party, which ruled the colony on the achievement of self-government in 1964.
In 1969, The Belize Billboard building was destroyed by fire and, in that same year, Dean Lindo, a prominent member of the National Independence Party who had broken away to form the People’s Development Movement, launched The Beacon. Through privately owned, it became the voice of the Opposition United Democratic Party in 1973, with a national circulation.
When Lindo left the NIP and formed the People’s Development Movement, with himself as Leader, The Beacon, as expected, supported his political aspirations.
The first non-partisan newspaper since The Daily Clarion was the contribution of the Chamber of Commerce under the title The Chamber Reporter, which was changed to The Reporter not long after its birth in 1967. This newspaper now has the second largest circulation in Belize and, is independent of political control.
Amandala was first issued as a weekly newssheet by Evan X Hyde in support of a cultural organization called UBAD in 1969. It has since become the leading newspaper, with the largest circulation in the country. It is, also, independent of party political control.
In 1973, the People’s Development Movement, the National Independence Party and the Liberal Party joined together to form the United Democratic Party. The People’s Pulse, which later changed its name to The Guardian, was born of a need to support the political aspirations of that party.
All the newspapers issued since The Belize Billboard are weeklies, except Amandala, which is a bi-weekly and, all the journals mentioned in this article, except Amandala and Reporter, were under the control of political parties.
The purpose of this article is to make some personal opinion points:-
Point One: I don’t think it reflects maturity in our democracy for political parties to own national newspapers.
Point Two: Only the faithful, who are already true believers, buy them. The publications do not make new converts.
Point Three: There are better and less costly ways to spread the party’s philosophy, messages, promotions, achievements, proposals, views, concerns, criticisms, objectives, etc. etc. The independent print and audio/visual media are more effective, have wider circulation, and are more credible.
Point Four: The independent print and audio/visual media produce the same news and information as the party newspapers and, they do it better.
Point Five: In conclusion, the nation would be better served without party political national newspapers.