Friday, January 17, 2014

T&T Parliament to debate decriminalising of Libel Law

In photo: Alison Bethel Mc Kenzie, Executive Director of the International Press Institute, Kiran Maharaj, President of the Trinidad & Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Wesley Gibbings, President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers
The Libel and Defamation (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which will abolish malicious defamatory libel, goes before the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament on Friday.

The amendment seeks to protect journalists and the media from criminal libel. Under Section 9 of the existing law a journalist can be jailed for the publication of any defamatory libel. 

On May 1, 2013, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she would take note to Cabinet to amend these laws. 

"I am pleased to announce that I will be taking a Note to Cabinet from the Office of the Prime Minister to Cabinet tomorrow to amend the Libel and Defamation Act," she said at a media briefing attended by Alison Bethel McKenzie, Executive Director of the International Press Institute (IPI).

"We will insert a new provision so that no journalist can be criminally charged and prosecuted under section 9 of the Libel and Defamation Act for the malicious publication of any defamatory libel," she promised on the eve of World Press Freedom Day.

"This would allow members of the media fraternity to engage in responsible journalism and tell the story without fear of criminal liability. And, in so doing, my government will be removing an onerous legal restriction in the criminal law which imposes a one year sentence," the Prime Minister added.

However, she made it clear that Section 8 of the Libel and Defamation Act would remain part of the laws. That section deals with the intentional publication of defamatory libel.

She said retaining that would ensure that media personnel are encouraged to practice responsible reporting, and to ensure legitimacy and accuracy in their reports. 

Read related story:
T&T drops criminal libel from Libel and Defamation Act

Persad-Bissessar has been a strong defender of media freedom long before she assumed office as head of the government.

When she took office as leader of the United National Congress (UNC) in January 2010 she acknowledged the media and promised to always protect their rights to freedom and free speech.

"We will defend media freedom with all our strength and legislative capacity because we know that without a free media our democracy would be deformed," she said in January 2010.

"We insist that no government has the right to take away or infringe in any way on the right of the media to operate freely. Our constitution enshrines the right to a free press and the freedom of expression and we must accept no less."

She said free media are an essential component of every democratic society because a free press will raise issues of concern "in a marketplace of ideas in which our citizens would be able to judge for themselves what is right and what isn’t."

Kamla Persad-Bissessar - at her inauguration as leader of the UNC in 2010
She has consistently repeated that message during her term in office. At a media luncheon in December 2010 she said, "You are doing your job, you have to keep us on our toes, you have to keep us focused and pointed and so on." 

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai