- The Defamation Act 2013, which replaces the decades-old slander and libel laws, was passed with bi-partisan support and hailed by media managers across the island
- The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) launched a new, interactive website in February.
- Under Phase Three of the Commission’s Media Literacy Project, students and teachers were trained in Radio Station Operations and Management.
One of the most impactful occurrences on the local media landscape during 2013 was passage of the amended Defamation Act 2013, in the Houses of Parliament.
The Act, which replaces the decades-old slander and libel laws, was passed with bi-partisan support and hailed by media managers across the island, and regional media observers. It has modernised Jamaica’s libel law, which was last amended in 1963.
Provisions of the new Act include: abolition of the distinction between libel and slander and the establishment of one single cause of action known as defamation; abolition of the law relating to criminal libel, so that an individual cannot be threatened with jail for what they say or write. The law also reduces the limitation period for actions in defamation from six to two years; removes the assessment of damages from juries to a judge; and replaces the defence of justification with the defence of truth. It also promotes speedy and non-litigious methods of resolving disputes.
Pointing out that the State has delivered on its promise to revise and update the libel laws and to enact a new defamation law, Minister with responsibility for Information in the Office of the Prime Minister, Senator the Hon. Sandrea Falconer, called on media to speedily set up its own mechanisms of regulation and self-policing in the form of a Complaints Council or Commission.
She also urged the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) to work with the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) in ensuring that Jamaicans have a voice, and that there is a mechanism for dealing with their complaints.
TOP PRESS RATING
Legislation, such as the Access to Information Act as well as the Government’s policy to open up and diversify the media landscape, has strengthened the provisions for Press freedom in Jamaica. In January 2013, Jamaica was named as the country, which boasts the highest level of Press freedom in the Western Hemisphere.
A global report on Press freedom published by the Paris based Reporters Without Borders, placed Jamaica 13th in the 179-country ranking, ahead of the United States (32), Britain (29), Canada (20), Germany (17), and Switzerland (14).
Senator Falconer hailed the rating, saying it was “a significant recognition of Jamaica’s democratic tradition and our sacred regard for Press freedom.”
UNESCO AWARD FOR HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS
The Jamaica Archives and Records Department (JARD) is one of the institutions responsible for preserving information on Jamaica’s rich heritage and in June 2013, three of its outstanding historical collections were given special awards by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in recognition of their significance to the international community.
The collections, ‘Protector of Immigrants’, ‘Registry of Slaves’, and ‘Silver Men of the Panama Canal’, contain records of Jamaica’s heritage during the period of slavery, Asiatic indentured immigration, and involvement in the construction of the Panama Canal. They have been incorporated in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, and have been awarded two special Plaques of Inscription which were unveiled on June 27.
NEW OPM WEBSITE
Honouring its promise of keeping Jamaicans informed, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in February launched a new, interactive website, which has been providing the media, the public and other stakeholders with up-to-date information on that office.
The website, www.opm.gov.jm, was designed by the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), and is maintained by the agency. The main features include: timely news releases emerging from the OPM; streaming of briefings; profiles of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers; policies and programmes of the Government, such as the Economic Reform Programme, Growth Agenda, Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), among others.
JAMAICA HOUSE BRIEFINGS
Senator Falconer continued to chair the Jamaica House media briefings, where she updated the country on decisions from the weekly Cabinet meetings. The briefings were at times expanded to include information from various Government Ministers, and other public officials.
Approximately 23 briefings were held in 2013, where the public learnt of the various programmes and contracts approved by the Cabinet as the government pursued its five priority areas, which include: Fiscal Prudence and a Credible Economic Programme; Job Creation and Economic Growth; Improved Security and Safety; Human Capital Development; and Effective Social Inclusion.
SENATE AND PARLIAMENT LIVE
Through the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ), Jamaicans were kept abreast of sittings of both Houses of Parliament in real time. The PBCJ broadcast weekly live, sittings of both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament, with the programmes being repeated at nights. Jamaica House Media briefings were also broadcast live.
The entity began test transmission for Free to Air broadcast in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) in the latter part of the year. This will be expanded to include Montego Bay within the next three months, and represents efforts to make the PBCJ accessible for all, including persons without cable.
In addition, it has increased its signal distribution with the addition of some 10 new cable operators throughout the island.
It is also moving to improve broadcast quality by modernising its equipment. A new master control system has been procured and is expected to be installed as soon as it arrives.
ENGAGING THE PUBLIC
The agencies under the Information Department of the OPM engaged the public through a series of public education programmes, seminars, school visits and consultations. The Broadcasting Commission implemented a comprehensive public education programme that included its Biennial Public Consultations; Media Literacy Project; Quarterly Meetings with Licencees (Radio, Television and Cable Operators); Schools’ Outreach initiative and an Advertising Campaign which was launched in August.
During October and November 2013, the Commission held consultations in the parishes of St. Andrew, St. James, Manchester, Westmoreland, St. Ann and Portland, during which it engaged citizens on issues relating to television and radio content, media output, the digital transition, media literacy and the impact of negative practices such as payola and cable piracy. Points raised during the discussions provided the Commission with valuable insight into some of the issues that should be given consideration in the short and medium term.
Under Phase Three of the Commission’s Media Literacy Project, students and teachers were trained in Radio Station Operations and Management through a series of workshops hosted in Kingston and Montego Bay over a two-week period during the summer. The participating schools included Balcombe Drive Primary and Junior High, Calabar Primary and Junior High, Flankers Primary and Junior High and Granville All-Age. The workshops were facilitated through CARIMAC, Suncity Radio and Mello FM.
The Commission also continued to create greater awareness of the digital future among the nation’s youth by engaging schools through an interactive multi-media presentation, which explored topics on the digital economy, new and traditional media, the digital switchover and the Commission’s role and mandate. In total 28 schools and over 4,000 students were impacted.
As the country moves towards Digital switchover, as at December 2013 some 15 cable operators are operating either fully or partially digital subscriber systems.
A series of regular meetings that facilitated discussions and updates on matters affecting the broadcast sector was held in Kingston and Montego Bay. They covered a range of subjects including content standards; treatment of programming during national emergencies; blocking of channels (copyright/rights acquisition; terms of channel licence/authorisation); capacity of on-air personnel; treatment of free channels on cable (music/radio/free-to-air/unlicensed) and customer service.
JIS AT 50
The Jamaica Information Service (JIS), in 2013 celebrated its 50th anniversary as the information arm of the Government of Jamaica.
As part of 50th anniversary celebrations the agency rolled out a number of activities to mark the milestone, including a church service, a newspaper feature, an attractive new website, an essay competition and brought back some vintage programmes from its archives.
The agency has also begun its modernisation programme, drawing down some $30 million during the year to enhance its Information Technology infrastructure as well as procure well needed equipment to boost production at the television department in an effort to increase revenue.
Three of the organisation’s top employees were honoured for their service to Jamaica – Seaton Richards received the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service; Enthrose Campbell was named Civil Servant of the Year; and Godfrey Barnes was honoured by the Press Association of Jamaica.
The JIS also continued its public outreach programme to the Mt. Olivet Boys’ Home, teaming with Yohan Blake’s YB Afraid Foundation in supporting the boys, motivating them to reach for the best. The team visited the Boys’ Home at least three times for the year, bringing them gifts and spending time with them.
The team also took its public education programme to some 18 schools and colleges across the island, and participated in a number of fairs, exhibitions and community events, giving educational material to the public and fulfilling its mandate to be the number one source of government information in Jamaica.
BOTSWANIAN BENCHMARKING MISSION
A five-member delegation from Botswana led by Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of State President (responsible for information and broadcasting services), Mogomotsi Kaboemodimo, arrived in the island on September 17 on a benchmarking media communications mission with the JIS.
The delegation sought to learn more about the structure and processes of the agency and its mechanism for disseminating Government information to its various publics. During their five day visit, the team observed the JIS at work and met with representatives of private media, CARIMAC, among others.
The production departments of the JIS work in a coordinated fashion to fulfil the mandate of the Executive Agency, its Corporate Goals and Strategic Objectives, by promoting and disseminating information about the Government’s programmes and policies.
This is achieved through the coverage of assignments and exclusive interviews from which new releases emerge and are issued to the mainstream media. The news releases are also mounted on the JIS website, carried in the newscasts of JIS Radio and JIS-TV and are sources for follow-up interviews. Captioned photographs, and in-depth features on special Government initiatives are produced for JIS Radio and JIS Television programmes.
The radio features are aired on some 22 stations across the island and are also available to online listeners through the JIS website and via those stations which have an internet audience.
The JIS-TV programmes are carried by more than 11 local free to air and community cable stations as well as three overseas stations – CEEN, One Caribbean and CIN.
A draft of the first ever Communication Policy for Government has been completed and distributed to government communicators for further review. The policy will, among other things, make government more open and accessible to everyone, regulate how Ministries communicate, outline the role of the Information Minister, the role of the communications staff within the Ministries and how the Ministries are branded. It will also look at how agencies of Government communicate with the different segments of society.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION
Jamaica joined the rest of the world in observing International Right to Know Week from Monday, September 23 to Saturday, September 28, under the theme, ‘Right to Know…Power to Change’.
Spearheaded by the Access to Information (ATI) Unit at the OPM, the week’s campaign was used to raise awareness of an individual’s right to access government information, while promoting freedom of information as an essential facet to democracy and good governance.
The Unit undertook a media campaign with features, promotions and interviews in the electronic media. Among the highlights of the day was a Right to Know display at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre, mounted in an effort to engage the public and to advise Jamaicans of their fundamental right. There were also Open Day events hosted at several government ministries and agencies, where the public could walk in and access information.
ATI ESSAY COMPETITION
The ATI Unit also continued its efforts to reach youngsters through their participation in an essay competition which was launched in September and will close on January 31, 2014. The competition focuses on the topic: ‘The Access to Information Act (2002) is critical for enabling citizens to exercise their voice, to effectively monitor and hold government accountable, and to enter into informed dialogue about decisions which affect their lives. Discuss’.
MANUAL TO TACKLE GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE
As part of Government’s efforts to eliminate gender-based violence in Jamaica, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs developed a training manual to equip individuals with the required knowledge to adequately tackle the issue. The document, ‘Gender, Youth and Violence’, seeks to train participants in conflict management techniques, and support the development of advocacy skills.
A six-month public education campaign, aimed at promoting gender equality, was officially launched in March by Minister Falconer. Entitled ‘The Way Out’, the $7.5 million campaign, which also sought to promote women’s empowerment, was designed to support the implementation of the island’s National Policy for Gender Equality, which promotes fairness and equal justice for women and men at all levels of society. The campaign was a joint effort of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and the Dispute Resolution Foundation (DRF).