Tuesday, January 23, 2018

MATT: Limiting press freedom

Defamation, Libel Act passed in Senate

 The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) expressed disappointment yesterday that the amendments to the Defamation and Libel Act 2013 that excluded the repeal of Section 8 of the Act have been passed in the Senate.

In a statement issued yesterday MATT pointed out that Section 8 of the Act, which 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he is liable on conviction to imprisonment for two years and to pay such fine as the court directs,” has not been repealed.

Sections 9, which has been repealed, states, “If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, upon conviction thereof he is liable to pay a fine and to imprisonment for one year.”

MATT said it is of the view that the passage of these amendments without the repeal of Section 8 has the potential to limit press freedom, as journalists will still face the threat of imprisonment.

This is counter intuitive to the government’s claim that it intends to decriminalise defamation and libel. The population has recourse through the civil courts if they feel their reputation has been besmirched.

By allowing Section 8 to remain as part of this country’s laws, there is no way one can believe the intent to decriminalise defamation and libel is serious.

MATT is of the view that this is in contravention to the fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago in Chapter 1:4(k), which ensures freedom of the press.

MATT said it has been keenly following the debate on defamation and libel, and requests law makers to reconsider its current position. The Act needs to be amended, and Section 8 repealed.

If lawmakers are genuine, given that their mission of ensuring press freedom remains an inviolable right of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, they will remove this restrictive legislation, ensuring that journalists continue to enjoy the liberty and autonomy to make responsible decisions to the benefit of our society without the fear of imprisonment, the statement said.

The Libel and Defamation Act, which removes criminal libel, was passed in the Senate, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, on Tuesday.