Caribbean

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JAMAICA The House of Representatives has completed its debate on the proposed changes in libel reform as proposed by the Small Committee set up by Government and sent them for cabinet approval and drafting without accepting several recommendations put forward by the local media. The legislators agreed to a few concessions, but rejected that more liberal proposals, in particular anything that would make it more difficult for public officials to bring actions for defamation against persons ⓠwhich usually means the press” who shed the spotlight on their activities. Our parliamentarians insist that they, and other public officials who control power, state resources and substantial influence over people’s lives, should “ even when scrutinized over the conduct of their public duties”, enjoy the same level of privacy and protection from defamation as private individuals. Also among the changes rejected was a proposal to make it more difficult for public officials to sue for libel without proving that the story was malicious. This would be in keeping with what has come to be dubbed the “Sullivan principle”, which is based on a celebrated case out of the United States. The “actual malice” standard requires that the plaintiff in a defamation or libel case prove that the publisher of the statement knew that it was false or acted in reckless disregard of the truth. But, in the Jamaican Parliament recently, politicians on both sides of the House of Representatives shot down this proposal and agreed to maintain the status quo. Media in Jamaica argue that when you become a public official, you have to know that you will be under very hard scrutiny because you have important responsibilities, and that the increased scrutiny is good for democracy A number of confrontations were reported since the elections that brought Golding to power, in September 2007, between journalists and government officials. Threats against journalists increased during the incursion of Tivoli Gardens in Kingston in 2010 as alleged drug and gun trafficker Christopher Dudus Coke was being extradited to the United States. At least one public official threatened to shut journalists out of a parliamentary committee meeting and declared that he will not speak to or accommodate the press. He consistently demonstrates boorish and intimidatory behavior towards media without any sanction from his government or his political party. TRINIDAD AND ST. VINCENT –BARBADOS – EASTERN CARIBBEAN There have been no significant issues affecting Press Freedom in Trinidad, and St. Vincent. This is generally so for the Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. GUYANA Guyana slide 20 places in the world rankings press freedom index released by the France-based, Reporters Without Borders, which cited deteriorating relationship between media and the ruling government. According to the report, “Guyana experienced a significant reversal, due to the often strained relations between the media and the presidency, as well as to the government’s radio monopoly.” Guyana in this latest report is ranked 59 out of 178 countries. Over the past months the media, including Kaieteur News and Stabroek News, two independent dailies, have come under attacks from the ruling PPPC administration, and Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo. They have even been deemed as the “new opposition”. A decision to place Government ads on a website was also seen as attempts to further muzzle the press. Last year President Bharrat Jagdeo also took a local newspaper, its publisher, its editor and a columnist to court, seeking more than GUY$10 million (US$48,732) in damages for an article that he says suggests he’s racist. The article, written by columnist Freddie Kissoon, was published in the Kaieteur News on June 28th.

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