PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jun 26, CMC – A senior legal adviser to the Gleaner Group of companies, says she is optimistic that the Jamaica government could remove criminal libel and defamation laws from its law books by year end.
Shena Stubbs, who is also the company’s secretary told the 61st meeting of the International Press Institute (IPI) World Congress here that 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 IPI that the Portia Simpson Miller government would pass legislation repealing the act dating back to 1951.
A bill entitled “An Act to Repeal the Defamation Act and the Libel and Slander Act” has already been tabled in Parliament, but it needs to be reintroduced after parliament was dissolved paving the way for the December 2011 general election.
Stubbs told a panel discussion that the Jamaica media were mobilizing for the re-introduction of the legislation, adding “the removal of criminal libel laws heralds the removal of a major shackle of freedom of expression”.
The IPI recently led a mission to several Caribbean countries including Jamaica to discuss the issue of criminal defamation with government and other stakeholders.
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.
But IPI noted that while “the island has a strong press, (it is) 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.”
IPI executive director 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.”