The World Congress of the International Press Institute (IPI) continues in Port of Spain today with a focus on, among other things, “Colonial Legacies: Criminal Defamation in the Caribbean’’.
Our ardent hope is that one of the legacies of this World Congress itself will be the repeal of the criminal defamation law under which journalists and publishers can be jailed if convicted on charges of defamation.
Though rarely used, the legislation remains as a big stick on the law books, available for deployment against any journalist or media house on allegation of defamation..
We wish to record our appreciation to the IPI for taking up the cause of Caribbean press freedom against this law. Their journey from Vienna to Port of Spain has been marked by stops in four Caribbean countries: the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados and, now, Trinidad and Tobago.
We are buoyed by the report from Jamaica where Justice Minister Mark Golding has said that the bill to repeal the law is on his desk and should be tabled before the end of the year. In Barbados, the Prime Minister has promised to reconsider the law while in the Dominican Republic where that country’s first criminal defamation case is underway, the IPI’s visit proved to be very timely.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, the repeal of this antiquated and obnoxious piece of legislation has long been the focus of a lobby by the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago and the Association of Caribbean Media Workers.
We await the Government’s response to representation by the IPI-led delegation when the issue is raised at a meeting with the Minister of Justice.
This edition of the IPI World Congress comes at a time of challenging change in the world of media, fuelled by social and technological progress. Contentious issues pertaining to business models and online journalism are on the agenda and are sure to generate great debate. Whatever shape it takes, however, the role of the media as the key information institution in democratic society remains constant.
Today, there is no greater issue facing the media than trust. With so many more people involved in the information process, and so many more points of access to information, media houses function under an unprecedented level of public scrutiny regarding the integrity of their purpose, their methods, their competence and output.
If the media is to survive as a vital force in society, it will have to prove itself the most worthy of trust in the ever-expanding universe of information.
We wish the Congress of the IPI great success in its deliberations and hope that the 300-plus media professionals assembled here will renew their bonds of solidarity in the cause of professional journalism and leave here fortified by their exchange of knowledge and experience and resolved to carry on their work in the cause of better informed societies.