Tue | Jul 17, 2018

PAJ wants journalism exempted from Data Protection Bill

Published:Thursday | February 22, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
Dionne Jackson Miller

In its presentation before the Joint Select Committee hearing submissions from interest groups on the Data Protection Act, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) on Tuesday called for journalism to be completely exempted from provisions of the act now being examined.

The association, which was bashed for tardiness by the committee's chairman, Dr Andrew Wheatley, said that there were several problems with the bill, albeit that Section 37 exempts journalism from some provisions of the data-processing regime.

PAJ president Dionne Jackson Miller said the association was concerned that enactment of the bill in its current form would be likely to generate challenges to publication of important stories, which will necessitate expensive and time-consuming court proceedings.

The PAJ would also expressed concerns that attempts would be made to use the courts to impose prior restraint, preventing the publication of material, which is inimical to freedom of the press. A concern also is that the decisions under the act are left to an all-powerful data commissioner, an agent of the State.

"The PAJ took two approaches to its presentation. On the one hand, our preferred and overarching recommendation is for journalism to be exempted entirely from the provisions of the act. Having said that, however, we also drilled down into the specific provisions we find problematic and made recommendations for amendment of each of those," said Jackson Miller.

She told the committee that although the recommendation that journalism be exempted entirely sounded far-reaching and bold, it was not really so. According to her, when one examines what the act would be trying to achieve in relation to the practice of journalism, it would be to ensure responsible journalism in the public's interest.

 

WOULDN'T BE A LEAP

 

"The PAJ maintains that Jamaica's stringent defamation law regime already addresses this issue, and there is, therefore, no need for additional legislative restrictions," Jackson Miller explained.

She said that the second reason was that as currently exists, so-called "special measures" activities, journalism, and literary and artistic pursuits were already exempted from significant and substantial portions of the act, namely, all the data-protection standards, except standard 7, and sections 6, 10, 12, and 13 (3) , and (4).

"Therefore, it really wouldn't' be a leap to exempt journalism entirely," Jackson Miller contended.

However, despite existing exemptions, the PAJ remains concerned about specific provisions of the bill as follows: Sections 15 and 16, which require registration of data controllers and which give the minister the power to decide who should not be registered with the only criterion being "processing ... unlikely to prejudice the rights and freedom of data subjects".

The PAJ regards this as having the potential to provide a "Big Brother" type of oversight, which is likely to be inimical to investigative journalism.

"We recommend that journalism be exempted from these sections and that consideration be given to stipulating specified categories of data processors to be registered," Jackson Miller said.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com