Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Friday | July 17, 2009
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New UK libel policy buoys local media groups

( L - R ) Allen, Buckley

Local media groups have renewed their call for the country to reform defamation and libel laws following a move by the United Kingdom (UK) to decriminalise defamation.

A week ago, the UK announced that it would make amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill to do away with sedition, seditious libel and defamatory libel.

UK Justice Minister Lord Bach is quoted as describing the laws as arcane offences from an era when freedom of expression was not generally believed to be a right.

"It's a position that we have maintained that it is inconsistent with modern democracies for someone to be made a criminal for the spoken (or written) word and this bolsters the position we have taken," president of the Media Association Jamaica Ltd, Gary Allen, said yesterday.

Civil vs criminal action

His position was supported by president of the Press Association of Jamaica, Byron Buckley, who said he hopes the move sets the pace for local legislators.

A report on proposals to modernise local libel and defamation laws is now being considered by a joint select committee of Parliament. The proposal leaves an avenue for civil action to be taken against offenders instead of criminal action.

"We are pleased that the so-called mother country is leading the way. In today's modern world, we don't think a journalist would be arrested because of libel," he said.

Both media groups, however, emphasised that the removal of criminal libel and defamation from the books will not mean that journalists will be less responsible for their actions.

"It means that you are being given a greater level of support and you have to take that support and recognise the greater level of responsibility that comes with that support for you to perform professionally," Allen said.

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