A welcome review by Grenada
The Grenada government took an important forward step last week in announcing its intention to review and make “necessary changes” to legislation that raised fears of potential disadvantage to free expression. In response to criticism by local, regional and international media interests, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell also promised to consult with Grenadian and regional media people before final enactment of the Electronic Crimes Bill, already passed by both houses of the St George’s parliament. Such consultations, Dr Mitchell said, should leave “no doubt about the intention of the country”.
The Grenada government’s intention had been questioned by groups expressing concern about provisions that would criminalise the posting of “false and offensive” anonymous messages on social media. Without doubt such postings could be hurtful and damaging to those targeted, especially ruling politicians, but their prohibition by law is an overkill response that impedes the free flow of information and unfettered public debate. By agreeing to hold its hand on the Electronic Crimes Act the Mitchell government, which lacks parliamentary opposition, has demonstrated a commendable willingness to respond to public opinion. The decision to review the legislation is to be applauded, especially in the context of the government’s very well-received announcement of its plan to decriminalise defamation.
It is now to be hoped that a review will convince the government that significant portions of this Bill should never see the light of day.
The Electronic Crimes Bill 2013 was a bad idea from the start. In metaphorical terms, it was a hammer to swat a fly. In attempting to deal with the excesses of online content, the Grenada parliament ended up criminalising messages on the highly subjective basis of being “grossly offensive”, “of a menacing character”, and sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance”, among others. The law covered communications through e-mail, posts on social media and comments on online articles. In breach, the penalty would be a fine of up to EC$100,000 or a year in jail.
Among key concerns raised by media associations and agencies around the world is the vagueness of the law and the lack of clarity on how it was to be policed. It over-reached itself even further in declaring that the law does not only apply to Grenadian citizens or those working or travelling within Grenada, but also to a person of any nationality “having an effect on the security of Grenada or its nationals, or having universal application under international law, custom and usage”.
The law would also give government officials the authority to access the personal information of individuals being investigated for violations.
A few days ago, the Secretary General of “Reporters Without Borders” urged the Governor-General of Grenada to veto the legislation so that it might be returned to parliament for built-in protection for freedom of speech.
Now that the Mitchell administration has agreed to review the legislation, it gets the chance for a better appreciation of its deleterious impact on the right to freedom of expression.