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Outdated libel laws help suppress freedom - PAJ

Published:Monday | May 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) has joined the global media fraternity in observing World Press Freedom today, under the theme 'The Right to Know'.

In a release yesterday, the PAJ said the free flow of information was critical to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in the Jamaican Constitution.

"There are significant legal impediments to the free flow of information in Jamaica, particularly between the State and citizens," PAJ President Byron Buckley said. "We use today's observation of World Press Freedom Day to call on Government to take steps to remove these obstacles."

The association noted that attempts to reform the country's antiquated libel and defamation laws appeared to have floundered in Parliament.

The matter has not come up for debate since a report from a committee, headed by attorney Hugh Small, was tabled in Gordon House and sent to a parliamentary committee for examination.

Small, who had been mandated to examine the libel laws, produced a host of recommendations after consultation with stakeholders across the island.

"We call on parliamentary leaders to accelerate debate on the recommendations of the Small report as well as submissions by the media to the parliamentary committee reviewing the report," Buckley said.

"We also urge our legislators to repeal the Official Secrets Act, which runs counter to the Access to Information Act. The enactment of whistle-blower legislation must also be fast-tracked to assist in uncovering corruption."