Last year, a rift between the local media and the Belize City Council ended in a quasi-boycott of Citco events. To give some context, several media houses had been constantly contacting Citco for interviews on various topics, but specifically about the municipal bond. Then suddenly, on a very busy Monday, Citco scheduled a press conference with less than an hour’s notice. This caused several members of the media to exit a Whatsapp group between them and the Council. This week, Citco extended an olive branch of sorts to the media and arranged for an elaborate breakfast at City Hall. It was during this morning’s breakfast meeting, that the Council not only wined and dined the media but we did get to hash out most of our issues which basically boiled down to a lack of communication.
Bernard Wagner, Mayor of Belize City: “I acknowledge the PR team could do with better communication with yourselves. From my vantage point sometimes the scheduling of myself as a mayor, I don’t only serve the media I serve seventy thousand people in the city as well and I have a lot of demands on my time on a daily basis and so many of the times when the PR is telling you all ‘listen the mayor can’t take this interview right now.’ it’s a genuine reason behind it. I am most of the time pretty busy. Unlike the previous mayors I take a lot of hands on approach in the running of the council and so I may be bogged down a bit I apologize for that but given the fact that we’ve already identified it’s a miscommunication and communication problem all of us are people who are able to navigate that and work that out. In the future I believe we have a PR team who now understand the importance of communicating and communicating in a timely fashion. You all have your jobs to do as I rightly said in there that every day you are tasked with ‘I have to present a newscast seven o’clock at night.’ so you are tasked and I in no way try to water down your task and your obligations, it’s just how we move forward as a group. I promise to be more accessible, my PR team has been behind me now, they’re communicating with us, they bring everything to me on a daily basis to ensure that listen if this is happening ‘the media wants to ask this question mayor let us do a short interview with them.’ So I think the way forward is clear, we don’t have no issue with the media, we came in on the backs of the media in our election and so at no time we will try to side track the media and let your jobs feel less consequential. From my end to you I promise to be a lot more accessible to you all.”
One suggestion made, in the name of transparency, was to post the minutes of every City Council meeting online. Mayor Wagner stated that he would have to discuss it with his staff, but advised the media to be responsible with the information they received.
Bernard Wagner, Mayor of Belize City: “If we are operating in a transparent fashion Deputy what are you hiding? But we always have to be responsible too. You ask us to be responsible and at the same time it has to be reciprocated that all our media houses and journalists are responsible. If you get the material you use it in a responsible fashion and I have full confidence that the media is a group of people that have extreme responsibility and will show that going forward.”
The Council has also agreed to answer our queries, or requests for interviews, in a timely manner. Their newly developed Public Relations Team was also present in the meeting, and is expected to work alongside the media.