Archaic defamation laws threaten Caribbean media
Defamation laws have been used more in the Caribbean and Latin America than other parts of the world. Some countries are now working to overturn the laws.
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This year, Grenada took a step toward reversing this trend when it became the first Caribbean country to repeal the laws. Now the governments of at least three other Caribbean countries – including Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago – have pledged to work on legislation to address the issue.Skip to next paragraph
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An IPI delegation recently visited four Caribbean countries to meet with politicians and journalists.
”We think that the Caribbean is an excellent place to start [on a wider campaign] because these are countries open to press freedom,” Griffen says.
Criminal Libel laws 'always there'
Criminal defamation laws often mirror those in colonizing countries; the English-speaking Caribbean countries, for example, have laws that date directly to England's Lord Campbell’s Act, the country’s first obscenity statute adopted in the mid 1800s.
But while England and Wales repealed the law in 2009, only recently have Caribbean countries moved to do the same.
Grenada saw one of its newspapers, Grenada Today, close after its owners were charged with libel in a spat with the former prime minister in the late 1990s.
“Journalists here are familiar with the case,” says Mr. Titus from the Media Workers Association of Grenada. “Even if you haven’t been threatened directly with criminal libel, it was always there.”
Seeing the laws as impediments to a free press, the Grenada government did away with them in July, says Sen. Glen Noel, who serves as the minister of information and national security.
“We felt [the laws] were not in the best interest of promoting the freedom of the press,” Mr. Noel says. “It was a progressive step to take.”
'Not just talk'
In the Dominican Republic, a small group of influential congressman says they plan to introduce a bill in coming months. “We hope that the project under discussion will satisfy the" international standards, the group said in a statement.
The group did not say how they would change the laws. Currently, journalists and individuals can be jailed for as much as two years for defaming the president, elected representatives, or members of state institutions, such as the police or armed forces, per a judge’s ruling.
Mr. Pineda was arrested months after he made his accusations against the former police spokesman, also a trained journalist.
He appealed the ruling on Tuesday and did not return calls for comment with the case pending.
With his conviction Pineda became the second Dominican journalist this year to be convicted under the laws.
"There's agreement, especially among media and among members of the governments, that these laws need to be changed," Mr. Griffen says. "But there needs to be a political movement toward that, not just talk."