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Minister with responsibility for Information, Senator the Hon. Sandrea Falconer, has again called for the establishment of a Media Complaints Council, to accommodate persons seeking redress for damage deemed done to their reputation, consequent on media publications, without resorting to court action.

The Minister repeated the call while making her contribution to the debate on the Bill entitled: ‘An Act to Repeal the Defamation Act and Libel and Slander Act’, also referred to as the Defamation Act, which commenced in the Senate on July 5.

Senator Falconer, a former practising journalist, noted that the delay in establishing the Council, nearly 50 years after media practitioners developed a code of ethics in 1965 to govern the profession, “is a matter of deep concern to me”.

“There are many persons who can’t afford to go to court to seek damages. There are people who have suffered gross misrepresentation; who have been damagingly misquoted; and whose statements have been slanted to give a wrong impression. (There are) many persons who have legitimate complaints about an imperfect Press, but who have no means to seek redress, because of economic or other limitations,” she contended, while pointing out that some persons prefer to avoid court proceedings to have their grievances addressed.

Senator Falconer argued that establishing the Council “is not asking too much of a media, which must, themselves, be accountable to the people.”

“People who want a voice or need to redress a matter should not have to depend on a letter to the editor which the editor has no obligation to publish. I don’t believe in any State regulation or censorship. I am against that. This Government is opposed to that and we will never go that route; the media must self-regulate. I call upon the Media Association of Jamaica and the Press Association of Jamaica to get together and finally establish this Media Complaints Council,” Senator Falconer implored.

The Defamation Bill seeks to amend the defamation law of Jamaica to address the inadequacies of the current libel law by implementing, with accompanying revisions where considered, recommendations made in the Report of the Joint Select Committee of the Houses of Parliament on the reform of the laws.

The Bill also seeks to further promote speedy and non-litigious methods of resolving disputes.

Some of its provisions include: he abolition of the distinction between libel and slander and the establishment of one single cause of action to be known as defamation; abolition of the law relating to criminal libel; reduction of the limitation period for actions in defamation from six to two years; replacement of the defence of justification with the defence of truth; resolution without court proceedings; introduction of the defence of innocent dissemination; and introduction of new remedies, such as declaratory order and a correction order.

The Joint Select Committee considered and reported the recommendations that had been made by the committee chaired by retired High Court Judge, Hon. Justice Ronald Hugh Small, in the report on the Review of Jamaica’s Defamation laws, also referred to as the Small Committee Report.

Pointing out that the Small Committee urged the adoption of this code “as a matter of urgency” in its report in 2008, Senator Falconer argued that “the ball is now in the media’s court.”

“Let us all work together, public officials, media owners and practitioners, and civil society to strengthen our democratic institutions, processes and governance,” the Minister urged.

Contact: Douglas McIntosh