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Media colleagues address perils of journalistic work and defamation

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2022. 12:10 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: While Breaking Belize News (BBN) missed last week’s House Committee meeting because our staff is stretched thin and was covering stories countrywide on what is traditionally a busy day, a few of our colleagues made it to Belmopan and shared their thoughts on a piece of legislation that is sure to impact what we do collectively and individually.

News Director for LOVE FM/TV, Renee Trujillo, explained: “We report on news all the time. We are constantly getting threats for libel and defamation. People want to be in the news but they don’t want to lead the sensational news, so we are constantly being threatened. So, I felt it was important for us to be here to express our views and to see how we can strengthen, protect mainstream media houses. We need to be respected as the Fourth Estate and to incorporate the Freedom of the Press. Enshrine that into the Constitution because we are the representatives of the people. Many times people underestimate, or undervalue, the media and what we do.”

She added that the current law is used for threats and intimidation even with factual reports, to the point of going to the company board and writing through their attorneys seeking corrections, clarifications and apologies, and so there is a cost to keeping attorneys, ironically, on the payroll.

PLUS TV’s Louis Wade noted that freedom of information provides the press with ammunition to produce well-researched, well-written, informative stories, and that instead of solving that problem, the new Bill may create more: “it cannot be a legal issue because the lawyers are not here to punch holes in the bill. It is not coming from any of the other quarters. But the people who are here are the traditional media. You don’t even see the social media here, so the ones that they claim they are trying to control, which is the social media, have not made an appearance. But because the traditional, legitimate media also have a social media site where we post our news, this legislation is extremely important to us. Now, if we have more freedom of speech, and freedom of information, then people will more readily voice their opinions, showing their face. If they have a social media site, they will say, “I am the owner of this media site.” But the more legislation, draconian legislation, that we have that tries to stifle free speech, it is not that the speech stops. It simply goes underground.”

And as noted by CEO of Great Belize Television Marleni Cuellar, “One of the things that we all acknowledge now are there are different ways to disseminate information; social media is one of them. And there is not enough regulation, for those that use the platforms that we offer to share information. The decision I think, in looking at the innocent dissemination that will be included in the defamation act is an opportunity. But again, as I noted in today’s consultation, I do feel that the media deserves special protection as well because when we are no longer able to put the information out to the public, and allow for public discourse, because we must constantly be monitoring what very often are posted by political trolls, paid political trolls, to go on and make defamatory comments, it will reach the point like we have seen in places like Australia, where they close off all the commentary on Facebook posts.”


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