Belize has gone from rank 29 to 53 on the freest country index as it relates to the press and media. Back in 2014, Reporters without Borders (RSF) placed Belize at 29th out of 180 countries around the globe. Fast forward eight years later, and Belize now stands at 53 on that scale. The report is even more relevant today as many countries around the world are observing World Press Freedom Day. For this year, Reporters without Borders noted that Belize’s press “coverage of political developments and criminal cases in Belize is controversial because the media are extremely polarized. This often results in legal proceedings that are long and costly for media outlets. Cases of threats, intimidation, and harassment of journalists are occasionally reported. Due to inadequate infrastructure, Internet access is among the slowest and costliest in the Caribbean.” End of quote. Interestingly, today’s observance comes amid a boycott of the media by the Belize National Teachers’ Union and the Public Service Union. But President of the PSU, Gerald Henry, spoke to Love News and apologized if their press release was interpreted as threat. He says that the unions enjoy a favorable relationship with the media and the PSU would like to keep it that way.
Gerald Henry, President, Public Service Union: “As far as I’m aware there wasn’t a media ban to start with it was just a notification.”
Reporter: A threat. It was a threat.
Gerald Henry, President, Public Service Union: “Well yeah. Unfortunately it came across that way that we will reserve the right to decide whether we’re going to give interviews but that again was I think the foundation for that was because we had some media houses who were out rightly attacking us unions and taking sides. So I’m hoping that we could continue this relationship and we could get the media to continue helping and supporting not only us as a Public Service Union but all unions that we don’t have the wherewithal like the government to pay for ads and so on so any little opportunity we get to get our word out there publicly we certainly appreciate that highly.”
Reporter: So would you agree with my if I tell you Mr.President that the decision or the threat issued to the media was ill advised, wrong headed and as expected futile ?
Gerald Henry, President, Public Service Union: “Well now you’re trying to get me into trouble with certain persons who crafted and worked on that release but I wouldn’t go as far as to say all of that but it’s unfortunate that it came across that way and like I said it wasn’t meant to cut that deep. Through the entire media universe.”
Reporter: It didn’t cut deep, your knife bent. It broke, it never pierced the media.
Gerald Henry, President, Public Service Union: “I hear you. Well like I said I really apologize for that on behalf of the union I am sorry that you all felt that way generally. Like I said it was not an attack or a threat to the entire media universe but we certainly have some certain media houses that were against us and we have been trying to just let them know that we know what you’re doing and we don’t appreciate it because we are as fair as possible and just treat us fairly that’s all.”
Reporter: Finally Mr.President Happy World Press Freedom Day 2021 sir.
Gerald Henry, President, Public Service Union: “Yes well it is me who is supposed to tell you that so what is it ? Press Freedom Day? Happy World Press Freedom Day my brother and please be sure to share my sentiments with your colleagues who work there with you and those who may collaborate with every now and then please express to them my congratulations as well and keep up the good work. You know you guys are doing a very fair exposure to the situation, balanced and we definitely appreciate that from our end.”
We also asked Minister of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs* Dolores Balderamos-Garcia about it. Balderamos-Garcia says that the move was ill-advised.
Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous People’s Affairs: “Saying that you’re boycotting the media I don’t know if it is a good thing because we must be open and transparent at all times and so you may represent a particular union, you may represent a particular organization but I think in twenty first century and 2021 Belize I believe we have to make ourselves available to the media for better or worse.”