By now, many if not all of the citizens of Belize know that the Broadcasting Corporation of Belize will be signing off the airways on Friday, October 30th, 1998. Many have expressed their sadness to the government and on the air. The BCB has provided Belize with up to the minute news, many educational talks and programs, countless coverage of festivals and activities countrywide and a wide variety of music.
It was the Government's decision to carry out the privatization of the BCB. The need to privatize arose from three basic cries of the electorate: first, that the government cease the propaganda broadcast on the BCB; second, that $500,000 of taxpayers' money was being wasted annually on a radio station that was losing money; third, that Belizean entrepreneurs who had invested in private radio faced unfair competition from a government subsidized BCB, which was exempt from all forms of taxation and duties while benefiting almost exclusively from Government ads.
The Government appointed a Transition Committee in charge of supervising the divestment of the radio station. The committee's interim report is outlined below.
1. Privatization or Divestment?
-After full consultation with the media houses in Belize, they did not express any interest in purchasing the BCB, whether jointly or separately.
-A comprehension inventory of the assets of the BCB has been prepared and a valuation of the assets is underway. Once the valuation is complete, a prospectus will be prepared and made available to the public. The transition committee has received at least one proposal by a private company to take over the BCB. The proposal however requests that government retains a 70% shareholding in the new company. The government prefers a complete divestment of its interest in the BCB.
2. Matters of National Concern.
-The transmission towers and antennas of the BCB will not be privatized, but will be retained by the government and leased to private radio stations.
This will result in several radio stations now having the nationwide coverage which formerly only BCB enjoyed.
-By improving and expanding existing provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act with input from civil society, and establishing a proactive Broadcasting Authority, government will ensure that there is adequate amount of cultural, educational, scientific and sporting programs on private radio stations.
3. The BCB Employees.
-Through the joint efforts and initiatives of the private media houses, the BCB staff and the Transition Committee, 17 of the 31 full-time employees who wanted re-employment have been re-employed into the private sector, four have indicated they will either migrate abroad or start their own business and about 10 remain to be employed into the private sector or the public service.
-As a gesture of good will and good faith the Transition Committee has paid or will pay every employee severance benefits even to those who have not completed the required five years.
4. Cultural Legacy of the BCB.
-The Archives Department, acting as trustee, will utilize the best available technology to preserve the sound library and other important cultural and historic assets of the BCB and make than as widely accessible as possible using, among other things, the Internet.
5. Financial Position of the BCB.
-It is estimated that as of October 31st, 1998 the accounts payable of the BCB will stand at close to half a million dollars. The collectible accounts receivable stands at about $50,000. It should be noted that the BCB has been unable to operate at a profit or break even notwithstanding that the BCB: a) receives annual government subventions of about $300,000; b) enjoys a tax free, duty free status; c) enjoys periodic upgrading of technical equipment paid by the government; d) receives periodic grants from international donors; e) receives the bulk of government ads and receives frequent bailout of debts by the government.
Furthermore, Government will take the necessary steps to ensure that there will be continuity in broadcast of vital news, services and weather reports on the BCB's frequency until the other radio stations establish national coverage. Come October 30th, there will not be a break in the transmission of these vital radio services.
The San Pedro Sun kept in touch with the BCB News via e-mail and received this final letter on October 16th:
This will be our final e-mail to our subscribers. Thank you once again for your letters of support. You will be pleased to know that through their own efforts and their high regard by the rest of the media all of the newsroom staff have received job offers. Marion Ali and Ruben Morales are going to LOVE FM, Keith Swift will try his hand at TV at Channel 7, and I will be going back to Channel 5. Clarita Tun is relocating abroad. Gaspar Ken, who left us two weeks ago is already at the Belize Times. I hope Naturalight Productions is able to supply you all with your daily news updates through some other source very soon. Thank you for being a part of this initiative and letting us into your homes and offices, wherever they may be.
Director, BCB NEWS.
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