05.07.2012 - Communication & Information Sector

Decriminalising defamation laws in the Caribbean is a necessity

Criminal defamation in the Caribbean, a colonial legacy, has been a constraint on freedom of expression and of the press, and used against journalists and news media organizations. Therefore, publication of defamatory information needs to be decriminalised, say the experts in a panel at the International Press Institute (IPI) Congress in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Kwame Boafo, Director of UNESCO’s Kingston Office, noted the continued existence of criminal defamation laws on the statute books of many Caribbean states, pointing out that this went against the categorisation of most of these countries as having a free press. To achieve the repeal of such laws, he added, “you have to be persistent, you have to be consistent, and you have to get the support of civil society groups and of international organizations such as IPI that advocate for freedom of expression”.

Also speaking on the IPI conference panel on Colonial Legacies - Criminal Defamation in the Caribbean, Ms Shena Stubbs, Senior Legal Advisor at The Gleaner of Jamaica, noted that Jamaica was looking at a bill that would repeal criminal defamation laws. “I am cautiously optimistic that before the year is out criminal libel will be no more in Jamaica,” she said.

Mr Wesley Gibbings, President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, said, “Even though the chilling effect of these defamation laws in the Caribbean was relatively minor, it still existed as a factor affecting journalists, and the phenomenon of self-censorship was pervasive.”

Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada, moderated the panel.

UNESCO proposes that rights to reputation can be upheld through civil rather than criminal law, as well as by effective media self-regulatory mechanisms, and advises its Member States accordingly.

More than 300 journalists, editors and newspaper managers from 82 countries participated in the IPI 2012 World Congress held under the theme, Media in a Challenging World: A 360 Degree Perspective, in Port of Spain. UNESCO supported some journalists coming from Barbados, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica to attend the event.

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