THERE is protection under the law to sue any media house or journalist who publishes libellous reports, says Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
In piloting the Libel and Defamation (Amendment)Bill at the Parliament sitting on Friday, Ramlogan explained what Government was doing was removing one specific criminal law—Section 9 of the act, which had the potential to undermine democracy.
Section 9 of the Libel and Defamation Act, Chap 11:16, states:
“If any person maliciously pub-
lishes any defamatory libel, upon conviction thereof, he is liable to pay a fine and to imprisonment for one year.”
“The fact is that many persons would be able to allege that the media published untrue things against them. A provision such as Section 9, if it were to be strictly enforced, could have the effect of crippling the entire journalistic profession,” Ramlogan said.
Ramlogan said despite claims made by detractors, the Government is not removing all the legal protections from individuals who may feel aggrieved by libellous publications.
Section 8 of the Libel and Defa-
mation Act is to be retained, Ramlogan said.
Section 8 of the Libel and Defamation Act Chap 11:16 states:
“If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, knowing the same to be false, he is liable on conviction to imprisonment for two years and to pay such fine as the court directs.”
Ramlogan said the portion “knowing the same to be false” should be noted carefully.
“This is a very important phrase to be borne in mind, Mr Speaker, as it is this phrase ‘knowing the same to be false’ which differentiates Section 8 of the act, which is being retained, from Section 9 of the act, which is being removed,” Ramlogan said.
Government, he said, was not
interfering with the right of individuals to sue for libel.
“Individuals who feel aggrieved by any libellous publication still have the option to sue for damages in our courts. Suing for damages, as you would know, is the form of redress that is usually and most commonly sought in this country for libel,” said Ramlogan.
He said Section 8 of the act will be retained and this ensures there is protection if any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, knowing the same to be false, he is liable on conviction to imprisonment for two years and to pay such fine as the court directs.
He said further, the material difference between Section 8 and Section 9 is the prosecution, under Section 8, needs to prove two elements of mens
rea, namely, malice and know-
ledge, while under Section 9 of the act, the prosecution only needs to prove one element, which is the element of malice.
It was easier, he said, for a person to be convicted under Section 9, which will now be removed.
Ramlogan tressed the need for a fair and responsible media.
The media, said Ramlogan, had the power to destroy a person’s life.
He quoted human rights activist Malcolm X to emphasise his point.
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”