ComPol says amendment to criminal code will affect police more than news industry

ComPol says amendment to criminal code will affect police more than news industry

Two weeks ago on June 11, Cabinet gave the approval to have the Criminal Code Legislation amended to make it an offence to publish any material that could hinder a criminal investigation or endanger the lives of witnesses.  If carried through, such a change could hamper the work of the media when it comes to reporting on criminal matters, in particular.  According to Police Commissioner Chester Williams, the media and the public are not aware to what extent the news reports have hampered court proceedings.  He told Love News that this amendment should not be viewed as an act to muzzle the media, and noted that police officers would be more affected that the news industry.

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Often times we have within the law what is called pre trial publicity. This is something that the Belizean society might not be too familiar with but it happens all over the world. Pre trial publicity simply means the because the matter has bee ventilated too much in the news, in the public domain it creates a problem for the court to properly prosecute and maybe even perhaps convict the person because the person can simply say this matter has been ventilated in the public domain and so I can’t get a fair trial. So what this amendment seeks to do is be able to strengthen the justice system so that persons who are accused of having committed a crime cannot go forth and claim that the matter has been ventilated too much and they have to some extent cone through that pre trial publicity because that is grounds for acquittal in a court of law. So we’re trying to see what we can do to secure that so that we don’t have those kinds of issues. So I would hope the the media would see it from that standpoint and not as a way to stifle the media in any way. There are certain information yes that the media will still be able to put out but the thing that it seeks to protect are those video footages and photographs that are subject of investigation. Many times we see that the police officers are the ons who would normally leak these video footage to the media and to the public so to some extent I think this amendment to the law is going to affect police officers more than anything else because now if police officers leak these video footages or photographs to the public they will be prosecuted criminally. So to me like I said we are the ones who will be affected more by this amendment as opposed to the media. So I don’t see it as censoring the media to any extent at all but let’s look at it in more a light in terms of making sure that the prosecution and the court system will be able to successful prosecute and convict offenders.”

Last Wednesday, Minister Francis Fonseca told the media that he was initially concerned over what this amendment would do to freedom of the press.  He indicated, however, that upon discussions in Cabinet, he was assured by the Police Minister, Kareem Musa that the planned changes would not tamper with the media’s right and freedom.  In our interview with Commissioner Williams, he went further to say that with certain materials, the media would have to seek permission to publish and that he would be open to sensitizing the media on the amendments down the road.

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “ There are certain tings that yes the media can apply for permission to publish. Once they apply and it passes the test yes you will be allowed to publish it.”

Reporter: So the onus would be on who to give that approval for publication ? 

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “I think the application would be made to the Commissioner of Police I think. I’m not too sure how the drafting is going to be done but I think it’s going to be between the Commissioner or the DPP. This would involve media footage for example when there is a robbery at a store and the store owner gives those video footage to the police as a part of the investigation and the police leak it. Right ? This is going to cover things like that or the police have the photographs of a crime scene and that is leaked. Those are evidence that are already part of a case. So again this law also seeks to protect the public because again we find that many a times people in good conscience and confidence give the footage to the police from their establishment to be used as evidence then it ends up getting leaked. When that happens it puts those people at risk who would have given those police those evidence. So in addition to ensuring we secure convictions the law also seeks to protect persons who give the police either video footages or photographs as evidence in a particular case. So again like I said if you go to a crime scene and you take vide footage of that crime scene and you put that on your news in the evening time the law does not prevent that from happening. But like you rightly said to have a meeting to be able to clarify to the media exactly what the law seeks to prove I am more than willing to do so and as a matter of fact I can say that we will do so once the law is passed.” 

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