The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) says while it welcomed the move by the Trinidad and Tobago government to amend the offence of malicious defamatory libel, there is “still work to be done”.
The Trinidad Parliament earlier this month gave the nod to the Libel and Defamation Amendment Bill, but IPI said the bill still preserves the offence of malicious defamatory libel known to be false. Opposition members voted against the measure.
“IPI congratulates the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament, as well as Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, for following through on a long-standing commitment to bring the country’s libel laws more closely in line with international standards,” said IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionf.
“This is a significant achievement and will strengthen the right of Trinidadian media and citizens alike to express their views and contribute to democratic debate without fear of punishment.
“However, we strongly encourage the Trinidadian Government to fully repeal criminal libel, as its neighbours Grenada and Jamaica have already done, by removing Section 8. Civil courts are fully capable of redressing all kinds of defamation complaints. Until such further reform, the Libel and Defamation Act will still threaten the full exercise of press freedom,” she added.
The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) said it was disappointed the Government had piloted legislation that could stifle press freedom and even lead to journalists being imprisoned.
In a statement, MATT said it had been “keenly following the debate on defamation and libel” and was urging lawmakers to repeal the sections that could lead to imprisonment for journalists.
IPI said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had promised to review her country’s defamation laws during a speech at IPI’s World Congress in Port of Spain in June 2012. The congress also witnessed the signing by numerous Caribbean media associations of the Declaration of Port of Spain calling on regional governments to abolish criminal defamation. —CMC