Last month, retired high court judge Hugh Small suggested revisions to the defamation law upon Golding’s request, the Observer reported. The revisions are currently being reviewed by “a Special Select Committee comprised of government and opposition members from the House and Senate.”
According to the Observer, most of the suggestions “were accepted by the Special Committee and are now making their way through the legislative process after which they are expected to become the law of the land.”
Requests for libel reform started “in the late 1990s,” the Observer reported. During that time, there were reportedly many lawsuits including an $80 million-plus defamation suit from a former politician against a newspaper. Through appeals, the sum “was reduced to about $35 million.”
Golding said he would “modernise the laws relating to libel and slander so that those engaged in corruption can be more easily exposed and brought to justice” during his election campaign a few years ago. According to a Feb. 2008 report in the Jamaica Gleaner, Golding “reiterated that commitment” during his Sept. 2007 inauguration speech.
The proposed changes to the law include ending “the common-law offence of criminal libel” and creating defenses “against reproducing a story from a reputable news organisation.” Also, a defense called “justification” is now going to be “truth in what was published.”
That defense of truth protects defendants “even if the truth of every charge is not proved,” as long as “the matter, taken as a whole, does not materially injure the claimant’s reputation.” Further, the revisions define responsible journalism as being both in the public interest and the media’s “duty’ to publish.”
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However, the revisions won’t put any limitations to how much can be granted in damages.
Golding also called for the Jamaican revised professional code of ethics to be activated. He also called for a Media Complaints Commission to be established, “to which aggrieved persons can seek redress for journalistic violations without having to go through expensive litigation.”
The Gleaner reported that Golding was critical of the inactive press council. “They have been talking about that press council for as long as I have been in politics and next year will be 39 years since I was first elected to this House,” Golding reportedly said.
Likewise, Parliament member Ronald Thwaites expressed disappointment at the unestablished council.
In response, Press Association of Jamaica president Jenni Campbell asserted that the council has created and approved a revised code of ethics and “said a media complaints commission remained on the drawing board.”
See the revised code of ethics here.
iMediaEthics is writing to the Press Association of Jamaica for comment and will update with any response.