This week featured another reckless swipe at your fundamentally democratic and constitutionally enshrined rights as a citizen of Belize. The attack on Free Speech and Freedom of the Press came from the OG himself and was a real throw back to old school censorship. There was a blatant threat of legal action against any who dared to repeat or reproduce or publish the information furnished to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Free speech is an inalienable right of every individual and is an integral part of personal development. Freedom of the Press is founded on the natural assumption that political leaders are as infallible as any other mortal. Both are important because they keep alive the hope and ideals of political development. The Press is often referred to as the Fourth Pillar of a Democracy, the others being the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. In our type of Democracy the Executive is already compromised by the Legislature because our Cabinet must come from the Legislative body. In recent years, the Judiciary also seems to have lost some of its autonomy. The Press is the last pillar on which our Democracy is precariously perched. Therefore, we must guard our freedom of The Press most jealously, lest our entire Democracy topple over.
All censorship is not as obvious as the intentional weakening of institutions that prevent the concentration of power. Belizeans have been victims of low key censorship before. In January 2015, Bennett and Naim spoke about Stealth Censorship where there is a practice of creating GONGOS (government organized, non-governmental organizations.) Let us think back on the sketchy Citizens for Defense of Sovereignty who refused to disclose their funding. These GONGOS often influence real and virtual conversations in chat rooms and discussion groups via well-trained and well-funded functionaries. These functionaries are paid to spread government sanctioned misinformation and alternative facts and often to disrupt internet presence of critics.
Another subtle attempt at muzzling the press is the sudden and abrupt withdrawal of advertising by state and state-friendly sources. This has also been the case of one in particular media house who refused to toe the line. There is also the punishment of media houses in this case BBN who was removed from a chat group which provides media houses with police information on cases. In some cases, the Police Department has refused to grant any press briefings or answer questions for select periods of time.
The truth is that there have also been more direct and violent attacks on the Press. Just ask Ms. Amaya who has twice been the target and even News Editor in Chief Mr. Jules Vasquez who were both on one occasion forcibly removed from a Sitting of the House of Representatives. The intimidation tactic currently in use is that reporters will be sued for defamation. The Red Devil is banking on the fact that reporters may not want to run the personal risk for writing and exposing corruption within the GOB. All things considered and especially the dismal success rate the GOB has had in litigation, there is no doubt that maybe even more than one journalist with integrity and honour will find the risk well worth taking.
On a slightly different note, vote PUP and keep sending the message #DEANUDONE!