The International Press Institute (IPI) has written to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller urging the Jamaican government to pass a defamation-reform bill during this legislative season.
The IPI which is a global network of publishers, editors and leading journalists, also copied the letter to Mark Golding, Justice Minister, the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) as well as the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM)
The organisation noted that approval of this bill would make Jamaica the only independent country in the Caribbean to abolish all forms of criminal libel. The IPI argued that this would mark a milestone for the region and provide evidence that Jamaica is on a path to becoming a haven for press freedom.
The IPI reminded the Prime Minister that delegates visited the island twice in the last two years to lobby for the repeal of criminal-libel laws. On the last occasion, in June 2012, the IPI said it welcomed the support of Ministers of Justice, Foreign Affairs and Information and was heartened by a statement from the Ministry of Justice late last year that passing the defamation-reform bill was a priority for the government. Against this background, the IPI is asserting that the time to put that support into law is now.
Both the MAJ and PAJ have been lobbying for criminal libel to be removed from the law books.
This would protect journalists from imprisonment when they are accused of defamation.
The MAJ and PAJ also want to include a wire service defence which would protect media practitioners and journalists from being accused of defamation when international media outlets are used as sources.
The Bill was first tabled just before the 2011 General Elections by the then government of the Jamaica Labour Party and re-submitted when the new parliament convened.
And in a quick response, the government is indicating that efforts are still underway for the bill will be brought to Parliament during this legislative year which ends on March 28.
Justice Minister Mark Golding has revealed that the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, which has been drafting the Bill, recently promised that the ministry will receive the revised draft on Wednesday.