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Posts Tagged ‘media’

P.S. Blogging from Belize

(Begging Leo’s pardon for interrupting his flow as blogger, I hope he and readers don’t mind this postscript from Belize).

I had a great visit at Channel 5/Great Belize Productions on my last Friday in Belize.  As I said in my previous post, I worked there back in 1991-92. It was great to see some old friends and meet new ones!  I had a good chat with the boss, Amalia Mai.  She previously served as publisher at the Belize Times, which shares a building and point of view with the People’s United Party (now the opposition).  She was also a civil servant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Belize Ambassador to Cuba under the PUP and has served as a lightening rod on various issues. Recently, she found herself at the center of the controversy over  $10 million the government of Venezuela gave Belize.  It appears that Sir Michael Ashcroft — himself a lightening rod — tapped her to head up Channel 5/Great Belize Productions not long after that.


I found Ms. Mai to be courteous and professional.  When I told her about the journalism workshop I am working on with UWI in Belize, she immediately expressed interest in having News 5 reporters attend. I also asked her if she’d be interested in taking part in the opening forum on journalism in Belize and she answered in the affirmative. A Channel 5 employee told me she’s a can-do person who recognizes good ideas when she sees them, and wastes no time in implementation.

Later, I was escorted by my friend William Neal (who has been with Channel 5 on and off since the 1990s) on a tour of the new building on Coney Drive.


I saw the newsroom, the brand new News 5 studio, master control, the Open Your Eyes studio (William is co-host of the popular morning show), and the production facilities.  Impressive!  Granted, it’s not hard to be on the leading edge when you have Ashcroft money behind you.


Just as American broadcast managers often wonder just how much influence cutting edge technology and fancy sets have on viewers, it remains to be seen whether Belizeans who are loyal to Channel 7 will make the switch. I suspect not.  The quality and quantity of the actual journalism remains competitive.  And, as I’ve said elsewhere, viewers seem fairly firm in their preferences.


Speaking of Channel 7, I was impressed by news director Jules Vasquez (whom I sat next to in primary school back in the day) and his in-depth interview with some of the players in what I think of as the Belize “fruit fight.” It’s a complex dispute among citrus growers which I am still not sure I quite understand.  At any rate, Jules is a journalist who does not pull his punches. While his studios and set may not be as pretty and cool as Channel 5’s I suspect the journalism he and his team do will keep viewers coming back for more.

So, that’s all for now.  I am back from my trip and looking forward to the next one!  By the way, below is a snapshot of the original Channel 5/Great Belize Productions facility.


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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