STATEMENT BY SENATOR THE HON. SANDREA FALCONER
MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (INFORMATION) IN THE OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER TO SENATE DEBATE ON DEFAMATION BILL
FRIDAY, JULY 5, 2013
I am pleased, not only as Minister with responsibility for Information but also as a former practicing journalist, to participate in this debate on a piece of legislation which is significant and important to members of my profession.
For a number of years, members of the media fraternity have lobbied and fought for changes to our defamation and libel laws in order to more effectively carry out their duties as democratic watchdogs.
There is no doubt about the importance of the media in a liberal democracy such as ours.
This role is absolutely crucial and anything which strengthens this role, as this Bill seeks to do, represents progress.
As the esteemed Lord Bingham said:
“The proper functioning of a modern participatory democracy requires that the media be free, active, professional and inquiring. For this reason the Courts here (in Britain)and elsewhere have recognized the cardinal importance of Press freedom and the need for any restriction on that freedom to be proportionate and no more than necessary to promote the legitimate object of the restriction.”
Mr. President, the European Court of Human Rights also stated:
“The pre-eminent role of the Press in a State governed by the rule of law must not be forgotten. Freedom of the press affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of their political leaders… it thus enables everyone to participate in the free political debate which is at the very core of a democratic society.”
And, in that landmark Reynolds V. Times Newspapers Ltd (2001) case in Britain, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead said:
“At a pragmatic level, freedom to disseminate and receive information on political matters is essential to the system of parliamentary democracy cherished in this country…Without freedom of expression by the media, freedom of expression would be a hollow concept”.
Mr President; these are all positions which members on this side agree with.
Recognising that freedom of expression is expressly protected in our Constitution, we assert that freedom of the Press is integral to this constitutional right.
This Defamation Act 2013 represents an important step in our democratic journey.
Let us note at this point, Mr. President that Jamaica already has an enviable record of press freedom — one that has been hailed internationally…READ MORE