KINGSTON: The government of Jamaica has announced it will soon table new defamation legislation designed to protect journalists in the execution of their duties.
Information minister Sandrea Falconer said that Cabinet had approved the legislation that will correct inadequacies in the present defamation laws. She said the legislation includes provisions relating to the abolition of the distinction between libel and slander and the establishment of a single cause, known as defamation; and the abolition of the law relating to criminal libel.
There are also measures for the swift resolution of disputes, outside of the court, over the publication of defamatory information.
“This means that no journalist can be locked up for defamation once this law is passed and come into force,” said Falconer.
The legislation also makes provisions for the reduction of the limitation period for actions in defamation from six to two years; and the replacement of the defence of justification with the defence of truth.
Falconer said the proposed legislation represents a major step in the promotion of freedom of expression in Jamaica and that the Portia Simpson-Miller government believes that journalists should never have to face the threat of prosecution when carrying out their duties.
“A free and vigorous and ethical press is a critical ingredient of a modern and striving democracy,” said Falconer.
However, Falconer said the “removal of criminal libel and defamation from the books does not mean that journalists can impugn people’s character and destroy peoples’ reputation”.
In 2008, a committee chaired by Justice Hugh Small reviewed the law of defamation and made recommendations for changes to ensure transparency and accountability.
The resulting report, which contained 16 recommendations, including a proposal to abolish the offence of criminal libel, was presented to Parliament.
A joint select committee was convened to consider the recommendations. The House of Representatives approved the committee’s report in 2011.