JAMAICA The battle continues for freedom of the press in the country for the purpose of having outdated defamation laws reformed, some of which date back to the early 17th century. The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), noted that attempts to reform the country’s antiquated libel and defamation laws appeared to have floundered in Parliament. The matter had not come up for debate since a report from a committee headed by attorney Hugh Small was tabled in Gordon House and sent to a parliamentary committee for examination over a year ago. The committee has met on three occasions this year to discuss the recommendations, but the matter has not moved forward significantly. Prominent British attorney specializing in libel laws, Mark Stephens, who visited the island in October, appeared before the parliamentary committee as they discussed the recommended reforms to the laws. Stephens said the changes recommended by Small were good ones in modernizing Jamaica’s defamation laws from a global perspective, particularly as they relate to the limitation period for filing defamation suits against the media. The six-year limitation period referred to by Stephens regarding filing a defamation suit from the publication of the defamatory statement dates back to 1623. It was based on assumptions it would take up to that time for persons to discover they were libeled in pamphlets or books. Stephens argued that in today’s modern information age individuals likely to appear in the newspapers have access to online resources such as Google alerts, as well as web logs and Twitter ‘tweets’. Persons can immediately know, therefore, when comments are made about them. He pointed out that presently in the United Kingdom (UK), the majority of writs are typically filed within three to six months. He also spoke on the likely impact which the United States’ recently passed Speech Act would have on Jamaica’s libel laws, noting that judgments handed down in libel cases in Commonwealth countries cannot be enforced in the United States. On the issue of criminal libel, Stephens observed there was an urgent rush globally for its abolishment, noting that several countries had revoked laws supporting an outdated, alien concept that persons should be locked up for what they said or wrote. Regarding claims for damages by individuals on the grounds that they experienced pain and suffering from defamatory publications, Stephens said such persons should be required to provide evidence, as well as assess losses associated with this, as one could not presume that harm occurs in every case. Stephens is also on record as calling for the placement of limits on awards for damages handed down against media companies. He cited examples of cases in Jamaica where the appellate courts upheld awards that were significantly higher than those given for similar cases in London, despite being based on the same facts. Libel damages for pain and suffering in the UK are currently capped at £250,000, a figure which was almost reached when two individuals were each awarded £230,000 after being accused of being pedophile murderers. The Coalition of Civil Society, made up of the Organization of the Private Sector of Jamaica, the Chamber of Commerce and Women’s Resources, and the Community of Urban Areas, has forcefully signaled that it would not relent as it takes on the Government on unacceptable provisions in libel and defamation laws and corruption. The issues of parliamentary conduct and the need for increased and structured social-intervention programs, as well as the enforcement of human-rights practices, are also listed high on the agenda of the group. Over the past year, The PAJ has also urged our legislators to repeal the Official Secrets Act, which runs counter to the Access to Information Act, as well as fast-track the enactment of whistle-blower legislation. This law was a political promise of the governing party, however it is moving at a snail’s pace through the parliamentary process and needs to be fast-tracked to assist in uncovering corruption. The PAJ also appealed in writing to the justice minister as well as the chief justice to relax regulations prohibiting the audio-visual recording of court proceedings, and the photographing of high profile prisoners in criminal trial. The latter was highlighted in the arrest in May of alleged drug/gun runner Christopher Coke, who the United States requested to be deported from Jamaica. The Whistle-blower Act seeks to encourage and give protection to employees to speak about malpractice and acts of corruption that have been committed or are likely to be committed in the workplace. The draft whistle-blower act, which sets out clear procedures for reporting certain offences, proposes that issues which could prejudice national security, defense or international relations must be reported by whistle-blowers to the respective minister or the prime minister. The proposed act requires all employers, including volunteer organizations, to establish procedures to accept disclosures from whistle-blowers. The Press Association of Jamaica launched an Advisory Council to address direct or indirect threats against journalists. The Council will respond to any threat to Press Freedom, such as the police response to journalists at crime scenes, political interference, personal attacks, and implied or expressed threats to the media. The Council is comprised of renowned journalists and will sit monthly. TRINIDAD & TOBAGO Early signs of climate change have appeared in the media´s relations with officialdom, following the May 24 election that displaced the eight-year ruling party and replaced it with a coalition of opposing parties. For more than a year, the former government had expressed ever-higher levels of ill-feeling toward the media. The government had also accused the media of bias in favor of the opposition and an absence of ”balance” in news and commentary. Such attitudes did not, however, carry over during the election campaign. The media were able to report on all sides, and to editorialize without intimidation or pressure from the party controlling the government, which also commanded huge advertising resources. The new government has shown a disposition and willingness to respect media rights. In the first indications of the new policy, the minister responsible for regulation of telecommunications and information technology has advocated higher local content in media programming and the establishment of a public broadcasting service. Promising a review of broadcasting policy, the minister gave assurances of consultation with media representatives and the public in that exercise. Under the former administration, a broadcast code had been drafted and redrafted with industry consultation, but never gained full acceptance among media companies. The media have criticized many provisions of the official draft code as restrictive and susceptible of interpretation by authorities The new minister has undertaken to facilitate another round of consultation over the code, before submitting it for parliamentary approval. Troubling during this period, however, has been the resort by government figures to the launching of expensive libel suits against the media. This strategy is pursued by powerful people with ample economic resources, having the potential for destabilizing and intimidating the media. BARBADOS, GUYANA, TRINIDAD No reports of serious problems were reported for freedom of the press from these countries.