C’bbean gov’t’s urged to abolish insult, defamation laws

Port of Spain, Trinidad— The International Press Institute (IPI) has adopted a declaration calling on Caribbean governments to abolish insult laws and criminal defamation legislation in the region as a matter of urgency.
The “Declaration of Port of Spain” was adopted at the IPI’s 61st AGM held during its three-day World Congress which ended Tuesday in Trinidad and Tobago.
It notes that media outlets across the wider Caribbean may be subjected to repressive measures, from jailing and persecution to the widespread scourge of ‘insult laws’ and criminal defamation and calls on Caribbean governments to abolish insult laws, criminal defamation legislation and common law criminal defamation rules as a matter of urgency.
It also urged that they review civil defamation laws and all other laws that restrict media freedom.
According to the declaration, “the Caribbean urgently needs a strong, free and independent media to act as a watchdog over public institutions.”
It notes that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right, and emphasise that freedom of opinion and expression are essential to the realisation of other rights set forth in international human rights instruments,
It observed that the struggle to attain full media freedom continues in the Caribbean, and that journalists in some countries face the threat of murder, imprisonment, torture, censorship, publication bans and threats to their employment,
Further, the declaration adds that these forms of repression are bolstered by the practice of deliberately excluding certain media from the placement of state advertising, by the burden of high import taxes on equipment and materials such as newsprint, and by failure to pass and implement a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act by most countries.
It points out that the measures also include the placement of undue political and financial pressure on media that invokes self-censorship and by the unfair effect on competition caused by state-owned media.
It called on the governments to “respect their commitments pursuant to Caribbean and international instruments guaranteeing the freedom, independence and safety of the media” and to free any jailed journalists.
The declaration also urges media proprietors and professionals to promote and actively implement measures to ensure high editorial standards and to uphold ethical journalism, while calling on inter-governmental organisations to promote progress in media freedom in the Caribbean in the next decade.
“IPI makes this declaration from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, as an earnest appeal to all peoples of the wider Caribbean to recognise that the social progress they seek can only be achieved in a climate where the media is free and independent of governmental, political or economic control,” it concluded.
The declaration is to be presented to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, with the request that it be presented to the UN General Assembly; the Director-General of UNESCO, with the request that it be placed before the General Conference of UNESCO; and the Secretary-General and the Chairperson of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), with the request that it be distributed to all full and associate CARICOM members so that it can be endorsed by CARICOM at the group’s next summit meeting of heads of Government.
It will also go to member nations of the Association of Caribbean States; the Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), with the request that it be presented to the OAS General Assembly; and to the OAS’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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