570 UDP supporters will determine on Sunday who will lead their party into this year’s general election. Dean Barrow is retiring from party politics, a plan he made public during a House Meeting on Friday, May 12, 2017. Patrick Faber and John Saldivar have had their eyes on the prize for the leadership seat even before the announcement. With all the clouds hovering over the two candidates in recent years, it makes for a very interesting convention come Sunday, February 9. Our news centre has been planning coverage for weeks until we learnt that the UDP is blocking the independent news stations from entering the Belize Civic Centre. We reported on the anti-democratic move earlier this week and found it distasteful that the UDP chooses to infringe on the rights of the press. So, what is driving the ruling party to act against the Fourth Estate in Belize? The News Directors of Love News, Channel Seven and KREM met this morning to discuss the situation.
Jules Vasquez, News Director, Channel 7: “The real reason that I feel is that the delegates list are so stacked with ultra – not ultraroyalist, are so stacked with immediate family members that these are perhaps; A, not the kind of people who might enjoy the scrutiny of the regular political operators and so they may be intimidated by the presence of the media and B, it is such a kind of shady undertaking in general. The way the whole convention is – I won’t say it’s rigged but the way the whole convention is set up it’s a kind of tricky undertaking. It is literally so counter strategic and counter intuitive to have a party leader under such a cloud that the convention becomes ticklish and in a ticklish affair you don’t want the media nosing around. That is my feel, my instinctual feel.”
While there have been other attempts at media intimidation, particularly the heckling of the media at press conferences, this complete lock-out of the media does leave room for a ton load of speculations. Is the convention rigged? Is the UDP taking a page out of John Saldivar’s book against the media? KREM’s Marisol Amaya refers to it as a coward move by the UDP.
Marisol Amaya, News Director, KREM: “The way that social media has developed I feel that they think with such a shadow over this convention like they feel like they need to control everything so that absolutely nothing goes wrong but what does that say about you? I’m curious to know how the decisions even came about, who requested it because here as you pointed out we have a leadership candidate who has completely avoided the media.”
Jules Vasquez, News Director, Channel 7:“Yeah it’s ridiculous.”
Marisol Amaya, News Director, KREM: “I really just think that it’s a coward move not to allow the media there to be able to see everything and then what sense does it make to afterwards we’re going to give you what WAVE gets ?”
Renee Trujillo, News Director, Love FM: “My thing is that you have a Prime Minister here who has been serving for ten-eleven years looking to retire from politics and we have to wait until WAVE Tv or WAVE Radio hands over this man’s speech to us because we are not privy to that, we are not privy to the Prime Minister’s address.”
Jules Vasquez, News Director, Channel 7: “Yeah his last address to the party that he’s led since 199. 22 years.”
Renee Trujillo, News Director, Love FM: “So how ridiculous is that. Jules I know you tell me that I have to choose my words this morning and I’m really trying to choose my words right now but I have a fundamental issue with it and while yes we have no choice at this point but to go and be responsible to the Belizean people we serve on Sunday, we have to come together and we have to be cognizant of the fact that it’s a creeping thing infringing on the press and we need to address it, we need to nip it in the bud before it gets any further because whichever party wins the next general election they have to understand that the media makes and breaks you.”
Since the news broke that the UDP would be blocking out the media on Sunday, members of the public have been suggesting a boycott by the media. It is a tempting suggestion but as Renee Trujillo indicates, we do have a responsibility to the general public.
Renee Trujillo, News Director, Love FM:“Exactly what I said in the beginning, it has national implications and while yes I have a fundamental issue with the way UDP is handling this convention I also have a responsibility to the general public. I have a responsibility to report to them and to go out there on Sunday and get whatever facts I can get from that convention and to report to them who the next leader of the United Democratic Party is which means who the next candidate will be running for Prime Minister, that’s my responsibility.”
Jules Vasquez, News Director, Channel 7: “You did want to boycott? “
Renee Trujillo, News Director, Love FM: “I did. I did as a matter of fact I would want to not interview UDP any at all for the remainder of this year but you can’t because you have a responsibility.”
Jules Vasquez, News Director, Channel 7:“I would love to, boycott is my second name. I have led so many boycotts but in this it’s non negotiable, we can’t boycott we are literally at their mercy because we can’t disappoint our viewers ,listeners and readers.”
Marisol Amaya, News Director, KREM:“Faber has said that we will be allowed on the compound of the Civic and whoever comes out and so we could approach.”
Jules Vasquez, News Director, Channel 7:“Literally it is the spirit of censorship, it is so anachronistic with the twenty first century , this is out of the George Price Playbook, this is out of the PUP 1996 playbook.”
This decision by the UDP is unprecedented by the party as in 2010 and 2013, their national convention was fully open to the media and the public. Blocking the media at an event that is of national significance is alarming and should not be taken lightly. It is a public fact that the elected officials are placed in office by the voters and as such, they are responsible for reporting to the electorate.
According to the UDP Chairman, Alberto August, WAVE TV will be recording the event and issuing it to the other media houses. As it stands tonight, the media will have to sit and wait until the counting is final on Sunday afternoon before we would be able to access the Civic Centre. The UDP’s event will begin at 10am and will include the endorsement of the new Party Chairman, Michael Peyrefitte as well as Dean Barrow’s final address as the UDP Party Leader. Voting begins at 12 midday and closes at 3pm. Love News will be reporting on Sunday via radio, television and social media.