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Will online press be regulated following Hot Off the Press blunder?

Posted: Wednesday, January 24, 2024. 10:11 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Since a post made last Friday by online media house Hot Off the Press posted video and images purportedly of the two women accusing a prominent attorney of rape and attached commentary that appeared to make light of their situation, it has come in for heavy criticism from authorities.

On Monday, Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa slammed its actions as “very despicable” and suggested that the post “really did not go to prove anything at all.” But he went further than that, mentioning that the matter had come to the National Security Council concerning potential regulations for the press and especially new media. “There has to be some control because we know every single day a new media outlet pops up online with no sort of accountability or transparency to see who are the actors behind these websites, behind these social media pages, and we don’t know whether these are legitimate media houses, and so there has to be some action taken by the Belize Broadcasting Authority to put in place legislation and regulations to ensure that we can get rid of these types of social media pages that are using it, like you rightly pointed out, for the totally wrong purposes – undermining the police work and also trying to further the personal agenda of one individual.”

On Tuesday, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams concurred, calling it a “smear” on the women’s characters and wondering how they got the footage in the first place.

But as to whether the case against the accused is potentially damaged, Williams demurred, noting that such decisions are left to a jury as rape is an indictable offense in Belizean law: “If it is that the attorney is to be charged, And the matter goes before the court. It is going to be heard by a jury. I don’t know if those potential juries would be influenced by what they may have seen in the public discourse. That’s a matter yet to be seen, so I cannot say.”

Moses “Shyne” Barrow, Leader of the Opposition, was also questioned on the issue on Tuesday and tried to distinguish between the right to innocence in the public sphere and attempts to re-victimize complainants. He concluded, “I would not have wanted that to be a story they did. I don’t think it is helpful to the accused. I think, there are many people that share your opinion that it is victim shaming. So I believe it is regrettable.” He also conceded that Hot off the Press “crossed a line.”

As for the party’s investigations, Barrow said that while the accused has removed himself from all party posts and obligations, and that the party does not hesitate to condemn acts of violence against women, what he is accused of doing does not square with the man he knows: “The person that is accused, these accusations are not consistent with the person I know. That is not the person I know. I don’t party with the person. Nobody could tell you they see me at Thirsty’s or Shisha or anywhere. I don’t go out, I don’t party. It is not my thing, so I don’t know what my friends do when they are partying but I will say this type of behavior is not consistent with the person that I know.” He added that the matter is under review by the party’s ethics committee and associated organs but that it is limited because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

 

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