By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor
Relations between the media and the Belize Police Department’s press office deteriorated this week after a policy introduced in January governing the method of information dissemination has effectively blocked the media from important details about criminal and police related matters.
The media has collectively decided to boycott all police initiatives including weekly meet and greet sessions, GREAT Program award ceremonies, basketball tournaments or any other effort for that matter. The media has decided to sustain the boycott pending dialogue with the Minister with responsibility for Police, Elodio Aragon and Senior Police Command.
The new policy stipulated that only the members of the police press office would be authorized to entertain questions from media personnel, banning all police commanders from doing so as it had been under the previous model. That model had been introduced and endorsed by the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie himself, who has since changed his mind on the whim without giving a reasonable justification for the change in policy.
At a meeting between the Minister, ComPol and senior police command, Aragon and Whylie assured that the new policy would not hinder the free flow of information as the media had rightly pointed out it would. It was decided that a police/press chat group would be formulated on Whatsapp to allow for questions to be posed and responses be given on crime-related incidents.
The system worked for a while, but for the past few weeks, media representatives began to note publicly in the chat group that many questions in the chat have been totally ignored, or the responses came hours later, sometimes after deadlines had lapsed. Additionally, the responses were sometimes vague and lacked specific details.
Media colleagues have also bashed the Department for how few and far apart press briefings have become since the implementation of the new police. The past three weeks, which has recorded multiple criminal and accidental incidents, has been especially frustrating for the media. In one instance, two men were shot in the Jane Usher area last week and police have yet to confirm the identities and details of the incident.
Following the wave of outcry, one of the department’s press officers tried to side-step the media fraternity by writing a letter to the owner of one of the media houses, requesting intervention, in light of a united boycott by media members to cover police events. One of their events took place this week without any media coverage. Since then, the relations between the two parties remain strained, pending a meeting with senior-ranking police officers to discuss a way forward to finalize the Police/Media Policy.