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Government gives reassurances to media houses over new legislation criminalizing publication of documents in police investigations

Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries

Posted: Monday, June 24, 2024. 11:48 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: At a recent Cabinet meeting, the Executive gave its approval for the submission of legislation to amend the Criminal Code to criminalize the unauthorized publication, dissemination, or disclosure of statements, documents, video footage, photographs, or other materials that form part of an ongoing criminal investigation that can endanger the lives of witnesses and compromise the integrity of investigations.

Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa has responded to concerns raised by several media houses who rely on such items to publish stories both by traditional means and via social media, stating that certain kinds of information would be classified from publication, dissemination, or disclosure, but that the press would not be shut out.

As Musa noted, “Many times I’m sure we’re aware that videos are put out there even before it gets to the police station. And so at the point of investigating a particular case, if a matter or a video has already been circulating the investigator at some point will have to classify that particular video as being the subject of a criminal investigation. And so moving forward as we draft the legislation, we have to be extremely crafty in ensuring that we are not trampling on the rights of the media and access of the media to what is considered public video footage or public photographs, while at the same time, doing some sort of a balancing act to ensure that we are protecting the integrity of the evidence as well as protecting the victims or the witnesses in particular.”

Leading media figures including News Director for Great Belize Productions (Channel 5), Isani Cayetano; News Director for Tropical Vision Limited (Channel 7), Jules Vasquez; and Shamax Productions (PLUS TV), Louis Wade, have all indicated their concerns, reiterating that the traditional press is ingrained with the need to protect sources and avoid re-victimizing persons involved in crime, while attorney Darrell Bradley has warned against attempts to “censor” press coverage.

No timeline has been given for introduction of the legislation, but the press retains a right of consultation once any such legislation is introduced in the House of Representatives.

 

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