Defamation laws in Jamaica could be repealed before year-end

Jamaica can see the removal of the Criminal Libel and Defamation laws from its law books before the end of the year.

Shena Stubbs, Senior Legal Advisor and Secretary to the Gleaner Group of Companies in Jamaica said she is “cautiously optimistic” that coming out of the collaborative efforts of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI), that the government would pass the bill before year-end.

A bill entitled “An Act to Repeal the Defamation Act and the Libel and Slander Act” was tabled in that country’s House of Representatives in November 2011, but due to a dissolution of parliament in December of that same year, and the installation of a new government, the bill needs to be reintroduced.

Speaking on a panel during a session of the 61st IPI World Congress currently underway in Trinidad,  Stubbs said local media bodies are mobilizing for the bill to be reintroduced in parliament.

Jamaica has been one of the countries where the laws have not been called into effect for many decades, but Stubbs said its being on the books, leaves room for it to be used to intimidate journalists.

She added that “the removal of criminal libel laws heralds the removal of a major shackle of freedom of expression”.

Just days ahead of the start of the 61st IPI World Congress currently underway in Trinidad and Tobago, a delegation consisting of representatives from PAJ and MAJ lead by IPI’s Executive Director Alison Bethel Mc Kenzie met with a team from the Jamaica government to discuss the possibility of reintroducing the bill to parliament with a view to having it passed into law soon.

IPI Delegation with media and government representatives in Jamaica following meeting to discuss the repeal of Criminal Libel and Defamation Laws

Jamaica’s Foreign Affairs Minister AJ Nicholson told the IPI delegation he was proud of his government’s relationship with the media.

“We are proud of how we get along with the press. By large, we are proud of our press freedom and have no intentions of allowing it to fall. In fact, it can be improved,” Nicholson said.

Jamaica is  among the few countries of the region that is consistently ranked high on the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

However a statement from IPI said it believes “the island has a strong press, but often restricted with antiquated laws”.

“Although there appears to be a consensus toward improving press freedom by decriminalising defamation, the topic has to be given priority.”

Following the meeting with Jamaica’s government representatives, Executive Director of IPI Alison Bethel Mc Kenzie said, “We are anxious to see the government of Jamaica repeal criminal defamation. Such a move sends a strong message to the rest of the Caribbean that these laws are archaic and need to be abolished.”©

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