PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jun 26, CMC –The International Press Institute (IPI) Tuesday called for the abolition of “insult laws” and criminal defamation legislation in the Caribbean.
In a declaration adopted during its 61st World Congress, IPI noted that media outlets across the wider Caribbean may be subjected to a panoply of repressive measures, from jailing and persecution to the widespread scourge of ‘insult laws’ and criminal defamation, “which are sometimes used by the powerful to prevent critical appraisal of their actions and to deprive the public of information about misdeeds”.
It said that the Caribbean urgently needs “a strong, free and independent media” to act as a watchdog over public institutions and that media freedom remains “a key to the establishment of good governance and durable economic, political, social and cultural development, prosperity and peace in the Caribbean”.
The IPI said there was also need to reaffirm a commitment to media freedom as a basic human right as well as an indispensable part of democracy in every country, including those in the Caribbean,
It noted that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right, and emphasise that freedom of opinion and expression are essential to the realisation of other rights set forth in international human rights instruments,
The declaration notes that the “struggle to attain full media freedom continues in the Caribbean, and that journalists in some countries face the threat of murder, imprisonment, torture, censorship, publication bans and threats to their employment”.
It also recognises that “these crude forms of repression are bolstered by the practice of deliberately excluding certain media from the placement of state advertising, by the burden of high import taxes on equipment and materials such as newsprint, by failure to pass and implement a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act by most countries, by putting undue political and financial pressure on media that invokes self censorship, and by the unfair effect on competition caused by state-owned media”.
The IPI declaration wants Caribbean to respect their commitments guaranteeing the freedom, independence and safety of the media and calls on regional government “as a matter of urgency to abolish ‘insult laws’ and criminal defamation legislation and common law criminal defamation rules, as well as review civil defamation laws and all other laws that restrict media freedom”.
In addition, it is urging “Caribbean governments that have jailed journalists for their professional activities to free them immediately and to allow the return of journalists previously forced into exile”.
The declaration calls on Caribbean states to promote the highest standards of media freedom in furtherance of the principles proclaimed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international instruments, and to provide effective constitutional guarantees of freedom of the media,
It is also urging Caribbean media proprietors and professionals to promote and actively implement measures to ensure high editorial standards and to uphold ethical journalism.
The declaration will be presented to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) chairman “with the request that it be distributed to all full and associate CARICOM members so that it can be endorsed by CARICOM at the group’s next summit meeting of heads of Government”.
It will also be presented to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon with the request that it be presented to the UN General Assembly as well as the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS).
The declaration calls on inter-governmental organisations “to promote progress in media freedom in the Caribbean in the next decade by, among other steps, assisting media in the areas of legal defence, skills development and access to capital and equipment”
It also welcomes moves towards a global fund for Caribbean media development and recommend that such an initiative make media legal reform a priority, in particular the abolition of ‘insult laws’ and criminal defamation legislation.