Oliver Wates listens to media personnel's input on the guidelines

The Belize Broadcasting Authority is in the process of formulating guidelines to regulate the manner in which media entities report on crime and violence in the country. Assisting in the formulation of the regulations is Oliver Wates, who has a vast level of experience in the field of journalism. Wates has been a correspondent with Reuters for 21 years and has worked in television and in media and journalism training in 60 countries. Now in Belize, Wates along with members of the Belize Broadcasting Authority have come up with draft guidelines by which the media is to operate when reporting on crime and violence.

The guidelines are a broad set of instructions on how the various segments of the media, including television, radio and newspapers should present news items relating to violence and crime. Those guidelines include a wide range of do's and don'ts - from images to what sounds could be broadcast. The guidelines also look at how minors are portrayed in the media to protect them from social repercussions as a result of them being victims or perpetrators of crimes. Another area looked at is that of sexual violence where the identity of victims must be protected at all times. Violence in music is another area where the guidelines suggest that violence and crime not be encouraged through music. If explicit language is part of a song, according to the guidelines, only radio edited versions can be played. The last aspect of the guidelines is the way suicide is reported. Special care should be taken in order to not encourage the actions or the manner by which lives are taken. There are also provisions asking that the feelings of close relatives and friends be taken into consideration when reporting on suicides.

The guidelines are a never-before seen way through which media entities are asked to minimize the level of 'blood and gore' portrayed on media outlets and the Broadcasting Authority, for the past few days has been having consultations with every aspect of the media. Those consultations have been highly interactive and at the end, a document will be drafted having taken into consideration everyone's input. So far consultations have taken place with television, radio and newspaper managers and it will be followed similarly with consultations with other stakeholders.

According to the BBA after the guidelines are drafted, it will have the power to reprimand and even fine media outlets that do not adhere to the guidelines. It is interesting to note that in the past, before the BBA could impose penalties on offending media outlets, they would have first have to have been convicted in court. The guidelines are a step to move away from that.

The Guardian