ST. GEORGE’S: The Government of Grenada has announced that it would make adjustments to the Electronics Crime Bill after it was criticized by the island’s media organization and the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) for quietly allowing the legislation to become law despite government promises of reform.
“The Government of Grenada, and especially Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, remains committed to making the adjustments to the Electronics Crime Bill that will eliminate any clauses that appear to infringe on the concept of a free media, or that seeks to criminalize libel,” said Hamlet Mark, Senior Adviser on Information to the Prime Minister, last week. “We had hoped that the amendment would have been before the parliament at the last sitting, but it was not included on the Order Paper because of administrative delays at the legal department. Given the latest developments, the Prime Minister has again instructed that the preparations are completed and that all concerned ensure that the matter will be on the agenda for the next sitting of parliament.”
The Media Workers Association of Grenada (MWAG) had said it was concerned that the government had not removed an offending clause from the bill that could severely undermine free expression, and infringe on the rights of Grenadians and journalists in particular.
In a release last week, MWAG stated that “it will not stand for anything short of the total deletion of Clause 6 of the Electronics Crime Bill 2013, now Electronics Crime Act, and a revision of other offending clauses”.
According to MWAG, Dr. Mitchell indicated in a telephone conversation with MWAG president Shere-Ann Noel, that he instructed the Attorney General, Cajeton Hood, to remove the clause on July 2, 2013 and again on September 25, 2013.
IPI, which together with the regional media group, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), has been campaigning to get regional governments to remove criminal libel from the law books, said the Mitchell government gave an undertaking to deal with concerns about the Electronic Crimes Bill last September.
Despite the assurances, IPI said no changes were made and on the same day that Mitchell promised to reform the bill, Governor-General Cécile La Grenade granted it royal assent. IPI quoted from Grenada’s official Government Gazette to show that the Electronic Crimes Act was published on October 3, 2013.
“The published version, seen by IPI, contains no alterations to the specific sections that regional and international press freedom groups highlighted as problematic. These included Section 6, which would mandate up to one year in prison for sending by electronic means information that is ‘grossly offensive’ or is known to be false but was reproduced in order to cause ‘annoyance’, ‘insult’ or ‘ill will’,” IPI said in a statement.
However, Mark said the decision to make the amendments was taken after the initial bill was passed in parliament and the consequent assent by the Governor General was “almost an automatic administrative development that is handled largely through the office of the parliament.
“There is no precedence under Grenadian statues where the Prime Minister’s office could have stopped the assent, once it was passed in parliament,” he said. “What the policy makers can do is make the amendment in the parliament, which we are completely committed to doing. We have transmitted that position to the Grenada Media Workers Association, and we have been in constant contact with the body throughout the period. We have at some times shared its frustration with the slow pace of the entire process.”
Mark reiterated that “neither the Office of the Prime Minister, nor my own personal position from where I sit, has a contradictory or adversarial position to what MWAG and such other interested parties are advocating.
“We are confident that the issue will be cleared at short order and the commitment made will be kept,” he said.