69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18 – 22, 2013

Barbados The current Defamation Act is in need of urgent modernisation to remove much of its conservatism, which acts as a hindrance to a more vibrant press corps. Additionally, the continued failure of the Government after more than a quarter century of promises to enact a Freedom of Information Act, while its officers and agents continue to wave an outmoded Official Secrets Act and civil service regulations to muzzle legitimate sources of information compound the problem. Add to this, the apparent growing practice of lawyers working for politicians and other persons of note who daily scour publications and their related websites in search of even a hint of conflict with the defamations laws in any article. These are often followed by “legal letters” that appear to be designed to intimidate reporters and their editors. The current style or preference of key figures in the ruling party is to use state media arms (the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and the Barbados Government Information Service) to issue sanitized statements rather than face open questioning from practicing professional journalists also impacts negatively on the tone of Press freedom in the country. On the other hand, it is difficult to point to any specific instances of direct State intimidation of media practitioners, threats of physical harm directed specifically at journalists by State players, or direct pressure being placed on media houses for the purpose of threatening the livelihood of journalists. In fact, in February 2013 the country went through a most “energetic and vibrant” general elections campaign that was characterized, on the surface, by healthy relations between all media organisations, the parties and candidates and an absence of violence against individual citizens and members of the Press — a tradition in Barbados. The governing party, as a party, still sidelines the independent media and tongue-lashed members of the Press who dare to question their performance or decision-making. After placing significant advertising in The Nation during the General Elections campaign, January –February 2013, the ruling party has returned to advertising solely with government owned media and with the competitor, the Advocate, which is seen as the “pro-government” paper.  The Nation holds the significantly larger audience reach. The challenge to Press Freedom exists in the Electronic Media and the licensing regime. A restrictive practice occurs whereby the government of Barbados grudgingly grants licenses to the private sector for the radio arena and this practice remains open to discrimination.  Terrestrial commercial television continues to be monopolized by the government of Barbados and has been this way for near 50 years. Television was first broadcast here in 1964. The government of Barbados has never granted additional television licenses for private broadcasters despite receiving numerous applications. Some 20 years ago, the government introduced a subscription television (Cable operator) system and has recently opened this category to 2 other Cable Operators.  The content provided on the Cable operator platforms comprise mostly foreign material save for the sole government owned terrestrial broadcast channel. Under a revised Broadcast license application regime, applicants interested in pursuing a local cable channel must now apply to the Government of Barbados for permission to operate same. The jury remains out on this new process as no new applicants have been approved as yet. Barbados is yet to boast of a Freedom of Information Act, despite active talk of such in recent years. Other countries in the Eastern Caribbean have also failed to enact legislation to support the operations of a free and unfettered press. Jamaica The state of the media for the period under review has been generally good. The government has signalled its intention to undertake amendments to the Freedom of Information Act to allow easier access to state documents and other information. The amendments are expected to be put before the country’s Parliament for approval during the next financial year which begins in April 2014. The Senate has passed the amended Defamation Act 2013 which, if approved by the House of Representatives, will replace the decades-old libel and slander laws dating back to 1851. The long awaited Bill includes such critical components as: the abolition of the law relating to criminal libel; amendment to see the reduction of the limitation period for actions in defamation from six to two years; the abolition of the distinction between libel and slander to establish a single cause of action to be known as defamation; and replacing the defence of justification with the defence of truth. Discussions continue on amendments, being proposed by the broadcast regulator, which are deemed to be inimical to financial sustainability of the free-to-air television and radio stations. The Media Association of Jamaica is strongly opposed to the proposals. For the period under review, the only press freedom incident occurred when an attorney (who was also the chairman of a television station represented) requested the handover and erasure of tape recordings of journalists who asked unauthorized questions of his clients at an arranged press conference. The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) subsequently requested of the attorney an apology which came after lengthy discussions and a request for resignation. The media house subsequently announced that attorney had resigned as board chairman. St. Vincent and the Grenadines This country continues to grapple with contracting economic activity. The main violation of press freedom is still the failure of the government to make the Freedom of Information Act (2003) operational.  The Freedom of Information Act was passed into law and Gazetted during 2003.   However a clause of the Act states “This Act shall come into operation on a day to be appointed by the Minister, by order published in the Gazette” – to date this has not occurred and the law is still not operational, and no explanation for this has been forthcoming. On the positive side, radio talk shows continue to flourish and numerous letters to the editor, highly critical of the government, are published by the three national newspapers. Advertisements from the government and statutory corporations of the government are published in all three newspapers. Trinidad and Tobago The country continues to be consumed by high-decibel political contestation, represented over much of the year by feverish electoral conflict, affording for the media both opportunities for market gain and exposures to assorted danger. A marked media interest in investigation and reporting of real or apparent misbehavior by public officials has stirred increasingly litigious responses. These are best exemplified in the practice of “pre-action protocol” letters addressed to media houses, that may or may not precede lawsuits, but which necessarily oblige expensive engagement of legal counsel. Such "pre-action" responses regularly come from those seeing themselves as targeted by media reporting. Moreover, rhetorical onslaughts, sometimes with coded threats, against the media in general, and some journalists in particular, have served the purposes of retaliation against unfavourable coverage. Economic conditions have allowed media entities to thrive and to grow, and even to heighten the focus on their coverage of crime, and the politically relevant public expressions connected with crime. It is apparent that, on occasions of street protest and other unrest, the presence of media reporters and cameras is welcomed as a restraining factor on the security forces. In general, reporters may rely on reasonable access to government newsmakers, some of whom maintain a presence among social media, with all attendant possibilities for outreach and exchange. Freedom of Information legislation formally entitles the media and the public to information in possession of state agencies. Making use of Freedom of Information procedures has, however, proved so problematic as to discourage more regular following of this channel for securing information and data. Disclosures in Parliament, said to comprise e-mails exchanged among highest state officials, included disturbingly abusive and ominously intimidating references to an identifiable reporter. The authenticity of the “e-mails” remains under police and other investigation. Wide publication of their contents, however, could only be expected to exert a fear-inducing effect on the reporter and other reporters. In due course, the reporter concerned Denyse Renne, and colleagues, Anika Gumbs, and Public Affairs Editor of the Trinidad Guardian Newspaper, Sheila Rampersad, were moved to resign their positions, citing intolerable “interference” in their work, though from unidentified quarters. The episode, replete with mixed messages and contradictory indications, nevertheless, cast a menacing shadow over journalistic performance and prospects. The use of state funds to reward or punish media entities, through the placing or the withholding state-sector advertising, inevitably and increasingly disquiets media principals. With considerable financial resources in the gift of political figures, the allocation of the share-out is clearly recognized as not in accordance with objectively established share of the market. Even more far-reaching anxieties have been given rise to by proposed amendments to the powers and prerogatives assigned to the Telecommunications Authority. This regulatory body, notably comprising political appointees, has stirred apprehensions by proposing to furnish itself with powers so much more extensive as to arouse fears of abrogating constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and media, and freedom of expression. The proposals include: Asserting controls over naming schema for Internet addresses Making determinations against market “dominance” by media entities Imposing administrative fees Propounding “quality standards” for content Adjudicating complaints and levying penalties Representations continue to be made against such proposals, on the ground that they represent threats to media freedom in general and specifically to the viability of the media as business organisations.