Categorized | International, Local, News, Regional

Report on criminal defamation in the region is wrong

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 2, CMC – President of the Trinidad-based Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), Wesley Gibbings, Wednesday said he was not in total agreement with a new report that showed only Jamaica in the Americas had entirely repealed laws that would permit journalists to be prosecuted for their reporting.

The report was released in the United States by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Wesley
ACM President Wesley Gibbings

It found that Jamaica from 2011 to 2013 repealed its laws that criminalized libel and amended constitutional provisions regarding freedom of expression, according to the report that also found that two-thirds of the countries in North, Central and South America routinely use such laws to silence dissent and keep information from their citizens.

But Gibbings told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the report prepared by the law firm of Debevoise and Plimpton for CPJ and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, contained several flaws.

“While it is impressive that Jamaica has come in for special mention in the report, it would remiss of us not to acknowledge advances made in other countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago.

“Like Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada have complexly removed criminal defamation from their statute books and we look forward to similar action by the new government of Trinidad and Tobago to move one step further than their predecessor by complexly eliminating the crime,” he added.

The CPJ’s Carlos Lauria and Sara Rafsky wrote in the report that ‘despite the emerging consensus that criminal defamation laws violate international freedom of expression standards, the continued use of such provisions has deterred the aggressive reporting necessary for robust debate in a free and open society.

“Even if infrequently applied, the continuing existence of these laws represents a lurking danger to free expression,” they said.

The report found that laws that can be used against journalists include defamation, libel, calumny, or making false charges, and “desacato” offenses which refer to insulting or offending the state or state officials.

It said 32 out of 33 nations in the Americas penalize defamation with criminal laws that can be used to punish journalists, noting that even where such laws are not typically enforced, their very existence has a “chilling effect” on the spread of information.

The report noted that at least two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have used criminal defamation laws to imprison people.

It said apart from Haiti and Suriname, other countries using criminal defamation laws are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela, it said.

Mexico and the United States do not have criminal defamation laws at the federal level, but do at the state level, it said.

While there is a trend toward abolition of criminal defamation laws in the United States and Mexico, there are no such trends in Central America, the Caribbean or South America, it said.

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 2, CMC – President of the Trinidad-based Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), Wesley Gibbings, Wednesday said he was not in total agreement with a new report that showed only Jamaica in the Americas had entirely repealed laws that would permit journalists to be prosecuted for their reporting.

The report was released in the United States by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Wesley
ACM President Wesley Gibbings

It found that Jamaica from 2011 to 2013 repealed its laws that criminalized libel and amended constitutional provisions regarding freedom of expression, according to the report that also found that two-thirds of the countries in North, Central and South America routinely use such laws to silence dissent and keep information from their citizens.

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But Gibbings told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the report prepared by the law firm of Debevoise and Plimpton for CPJ and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, contained several flaws.

“While it is impressive that Jamaica has come in for special mention in the report, it would remiss of us not to acknowledge advances made in other countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago.

“Like Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada have complexly removed criminal defamation from their statute books and we look forward to similar action by the new government of Trinidad and Tobago to move one step further than their predecessor by complexly eliminating the crime,” he added.

The CPJ’s Carlos Lauria and Sara Rafsky wrote in the report that ‘despite the emerging consensus that criminal defamation laws violate international freedom of expression standards, the continued use of such provisions has deterred the aggressive reporting necessary for robust debate in a free and open society.

“Even if infrequently applied, the continuing existence of these laws represents a lurking danger to free expression,” they said.

The report found that laws that can be used against journalists include defamation, libel, calumny, or making false charges, and “desacato” offenses which refer to insulting or offending the state or state officials.

It said 32 out of 33 nations in the Americas penalize defamation with criminal laws that can be used to punish journalists, noting that even where such laws are not typically enforced, their very existence has a “chilling effect” on the spread of information.

The report noted that at least two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have used criminal defamation laws to imprison people.

It said apart from Haiti and Suriname, other countries using criminal defamation laws are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela, it said.

Mexico and the United States do not have criminal defamation laws at the federal level, but do at the state level, it said.

While there is a trend toward abolition of criminal defamation laws in the United States and Mexico, there are no such trends in Central America, the Caribbean or South America, it said.