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SPJ's Diversity Blog » Blog Archive » Journalism in Belize: A positive meeting & public opinion | A Society of Professional Journalists Blog

Journalism in Belize: A positive meeting & public opinion

On Thursday I had my meeting with Mrs. Jane Bennett and Dr. Sharmaine Saunders at the Belize City branch of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus.

I am happy to report that we will be moving ahead with plans for a week of workshops about journalism in June! My original idea was 3 days or so, but both women think four days of half-day workshops would work best.

They loved my idea of kicking things off on a Monday evening with a symposium or open forum about the journalism status quo in Belize.  This would provide a venue for both media professionals and the general public to ask questions and even vent.

So far, the workshops will include:  Investigative journalism; effective interviewing techniques; interpersonal communication (many journalists are criticized here for a lack of professsionalism in their demeanor with interview subjects, newsmakers, etc.); open records and meetings laws in Belize; media management; and using multimedia.  I plan to draw on local experts as well as volunteers from the US (myself included).

Any SPJ’ers who would be interested in volunteering to lead a workshop on one of the above topics, let me know!  You would have to pay your own freight, but staying with a host family here could probably be arranged.  Keep watching this blog for information on the final dates.  I want to stress that the goal with these workshops is not to impose American values and traditions on Belizean journalism.  Read my entry “Blogging from Belize,” for my philosophy about this undertaking.

Last night I was reminded once again how engaged Belizeans are with their media.  I attended a little get-together of women at the home prominent local attorney Lisa Shoman.  Lisa was Minister of Foreign Affairs under the last administration and also served as ambassador to the United States.  Lisa and her guests talked about several issues:

* The ethics of interviewing children without permission from their parents. This conversation centered around a TV news story in which the reporter interviewed Guatemalan schoolchildren along the border who were crossing over to Belize to attend school illegally.  Related to this issue: a recent story about a custody battle showed the child in question and delved into the private lives of the foster mother and birth mother to a degree that many at the gathering last night found beyond the pale.

* Too much pontificating.  Lisa called talk shows a Belizean “national pasttime!” A dynamic and healthy public conversation about important issues is one thing, but the extent to which journalists use their programs as platforms for their own personalities and biases was objectionable to several of the women at the soiree.

* Lack of professionalism. The women agreed that local journalists can come across as insensitive, rough, crude, and even offensive in interviews with newsmakers and Joe Public.

* Rambling stories.  The guests said on air and in print, stories are repititive and too short on actual information and compelling content.

Even with all its flaws — as I have stated previously — Belizean journalism is vigorous, dynamic and vital.  Journalists here are poorly paid but passionate.  Most are well-intentioned and tireless in their efforts to give voice to the voiceless.

That’s all for now.

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