IAPA asks MPs to safeguard news media in Data Protection Bill
The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) is urging Jamaican legislators to ensure that legislation aimed at protecting personal data should safeguard media from having to reveal confidential news sources and other proprietary information.
Aspects of the Data Protection Bill which is now before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, have been criticised by the Press Association of Jamaica and the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ), and now IAPA has added its voice.
"We ... propose to Jamaican legislators that they legislate on the necessary confidentiality of news sources,'' said IAPA president Gustavo Mohme, as he echoed the MAJ's call that the legislation should exclude the media from the requirement to reveal stored personal data.
PRESS FREEDOM VITAL
Mohme, editor of the Peruvian newspaper La Republica, said: "In a democracy, it is vital for freedom of the press that journalists have the necessary tools to carry out their role, the secrecy of sources being not a privilege, but an indispensable need to protect the social interest, something contemplated by Jamaica's Constitution but which has not been regulated by any law."
He added: "At a time of a surge in investigative journalism, and following the trend of creating anti-corruption laws that encourage people to denounce irregularities from within privately owned and public bodies, it becomes necessary that these denunciations and their sources be protected by the confidentiality of the journalist."
Roberto Rock, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, declared, "The confidentiality of sources is part of the journalistic ethic and, regrettably in many countries, including in Jamaica, governments are avoiding legislating on the issue."
Rock, editor of the Mexican news portal La Silla Rota, added that, in general, "every public or private entity must be obliged to preserve the personal data of the citizens they capture for any circumstance, in addition, they must be transparent and inform publicly about the policy they adopt in this matter". However, he considered that "for this reason, in no way information considered confidential should be disclosed".
He also recalled that "the IAPA has a long history of defending imprisoned journalists in the United States, who have preferred to disobey a judge and go to jail rather than reveal their sources of information".
Mohme and Rock added that confidentiality enables the creation of a bond of confidence between the journalist and his or her sources and that, in a sociopolitical context where information tends to be hidden, anonymous sources are the last resort to obtain information.
The bill proposes that persons and organisations, including media houses, regarded as "data controllers", submit to a new Information Commissioner's Office a description of personal data received, stored or otherwise processed.
Under the bill, the Information Commissioner's Office would have wide powers over individuals and organisations (including the media) to obtain information, such as the identities of sources, to demand rectification, among various other powers.
Penalties for failure to comply with the proposed legislation are varied and include imprisonment.
TOOL OF CENSORSHIP
IAPA also expressed concern at the power that would be accumulated in the office of the Data Commissioner, making an analogy with Ecuador's Superintendency of Information and Communication (Supercom), which, being the official body charged with administering the Communication Law, ended up being a government tool of censorship.
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the defence and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida.