The Press Association of Jamaica joins the call by the editorial writers of the Jamaica Gleaner for the government to pull back, even at this stage, and revise problematic provisions of the Data Protection Act.
In an editorial dated June 29, 2020, the editorial writers called the Act a threat to press freedom. The Association agrees with this assessment, hence our initial far-reaching submission for the practice of journalism to have been exempted from the provisions of the Act.
Serious concerns remain about the overly broad powers of the Information Commissioner. Although the office of the Information Commissioner will now be subject, after the fact, to an oversight committee of Parliament, this does not address the clear and present danger of the chilling effect of the office's decisions on the publication of news. This concern is shared by the Media Association of Jamaica, which has also expressed disappointment with the passage of the Act.
As we said in our initial submission, 'The desire to ensure the independence of the office is understandable and commendable. However, the virtual fiefdom created by the Office, and the Commissioner's almost complete authority in decision-making means that tremendous power lies in the hands of a single individual.
Legal action after the fact cannot be the answer. In journalism, where time is often of the essence, and as has been acknowledged by the learned British judge Lord Nicholls in the seminal case of Reynolds v Times Newspapers "news is often a perishable commodity." Forcing disputes through the court system may well result in killing important pieces of journalism and will, arguably, amount to giving a license to the imposition of prior restraint, long regarded as almost always unacceptable in journalism.'
We find it incredible that in all the references to the implementation of data protection legislation in Europe, the negative and problematic effects of that legislation has been ignored by our legislators, hell bent on their own race to the tape of implementation.
Writing in the Atlantic on June 3, 2019, Bernhard Warner wrote that "The European Union tried to protect internet users. It also gave public officials a blunt instrument to wield against journalists."
But it is not too late. The Gleaner's editorial writers said, '...what is worse than formulating bad policy is implementing it." We wholeheartedly endorse that position, and call upon the government to "cry cree", reconsider, and to remit this legislation to Parliament for reconsideration.