The amendment to Section 9 of the Libel and Defamation Act was passed in Parliament on Friday night, despite calls for the Act to be looked at in its entirety.
Member of Parliament for St Joseph Terrence Deyalsingh, who made the call during his contribution to the debate, said there needed to be balance in the amendment to the Act.
But he did not see that balance in the abolition of just Section 9 of the Act.
“Why the obscene haste on section nine alone when there are so many issues surrounding the 1845 Act. If we are serious of looking at this archaic piece of legislation we have to look at the entire piece of legislation.
Why aren’t we looking at the entire piece of legislation and modernising the entire legislation. We really have to come to terms with new media. This piece of legislation is about balance but the Attorney General (Anand Ramlogan) took the side of the media when he should be taking the side of what is in the public interest,” he said.
Deyalsingh went further to ask whether it was in the public interest to have politicians, sportsmen, entertainers and public servants now having to sue to clear their names. “It was politicians yesterday, today it is a public servant and this is a frightening development. The Pandora’s box you are opening will not be able to be closed,” he added. Deyalsingh said in trying to restore the balance there was a need to look at the defences available to news organisations in trying to defend a case of defamation.
He said they could rely on truth which is justification, absolute privilege, fair comment, responsible communication on matters of public interest, innocent dissemination and the Reynolds Defence.
“They are allowed to print untrue and defamatory information, if they can prove it was in the public’s interest,” he said.
Arguing his point Deyalsingh said a fine should replace the Section 9 jail term but it is not to be applicable to the journalist but to the publishing house.
“The fines have to be such that it is an equivalent deterrent to a jail fine and let me tell you why the fine has to be high and I want the public to understand this- if we recommend a fine it does not mean that the publishing house has to pay a million dollars out of its coffers-the reason being all media houses have insurance.
So our issue here is not with the journalist, our issue is to have a fine bearing in mind that a publishing house can buy insurance. And what type of insurance, they can buy product defamation insurance, they can buy person disparagement insurance and they can buy invasion of infringement insurance.
So our proposal on fines is not to fine a journalist—this has to go all the way to the top of the boardroom, because a journalist writes a story, they have an editor, they have editorial sub-committee on the board, they have a legal department—somebody has to be held accountable and somebody has to be held responsible and the higher up the food chain you go the better. This has nothing to do with a journalist.”
Deyalsingh said media houses were conglomerates.
“They are rich. They are traded on the stock exchange. They are not one man operation so they can afford the insurance and that is what we are recommending,” he said.