Executive director of the International Press Institute (IPI), Alison Bethel-McKenzie, has called on political parties to put aside their differences and support the Libel and Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2013 currently being debated in Parliament.
In a statement issued yesterday, Bethel-McKenzie said she wanted to congratulate the Trinidad and Tobago House of Representatives for passing legislation to partially repeal criminal defamatory libel offences.
The IPI executive director described it as “a monumental step in the right direction”.
She said the IPI remained concerned, however, about arguments advanced by some members of the House of Representatives against the bill.
“IPI and the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) encourage political organisations to put aside their differences and to uphold the spirit of new measures we hope will eventually lead to the eventual decriminalisation of all forms of expression,” Bethel-McKenzie said.
The statement added: “Trinidad and Tobago is a leading member of the Caribbean Community and is obliged to uphold its commitment as a signatory to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, inclusive of Article 19 which holds that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions with interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.”
“Criminal defamation has no place in a democracy. It is not a legislated provision that is intended only to punish the media and other purveyors of information, analysis and opinion. It is a law that impacts every citizen in every corner of the nation. What it means is that anyone—anyone—can be jailed for publishing or broadcasting defamatory material, even if that material is published inadvertently.
“While IPI believes that every citizen should, indeed—must, have a right to his or her reputation, we believe that right is secured in the civil courts and that action against a journalist, or any other person, should be brought in civil court.
“Trinidad and Tobago should remain in its rightful place at the top of the list of democratic countries that not only boast of, but encourage, a free and empowered media. A media that informs, investigates and analyses; that keeps track of legislators and legislation; that investigates corruption and praises advancement.”