IPI officials to visit Caribbean in continued campaign to decriminalize libel
VIENNA, Austria, Wednesday May 16, 2012 – The International Press Institute (IPI) will conduct missions to four Caribbean countries next month in its ongoing effort to abolish criminal defamation laws in the region.
IPI representatives, including Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie, will travel to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago to meet with government, media, and civil society representatives on decriminalizing libel offenses. The missions are a continuation of IPI's previous work, including a mission to Jamaica in December last year.
"The upcoming missions are a critical element of our broader campaign to repeal criminal defamation-laws across the Caribbean region," explained Pavol Mudry, Vice Chair of IPI’s Executive Board, who will join the mission. "Working together with local media and politicians, we will present our case that criminalized libel is a relic of colonialism and has no place in a modern, democratic Caribbean."
All 13 independent states in the Caribbean maintain criminal defamation laws, with each providing a penalty of at least one year in prison. Libel deemed seditious or obscene remains a separate offence in a majority of Caribbean countries and generally entails stiffer punishments, with prison sentences of up to five years in certain cases.
While defamation statutes in many parts of the world remain largely dormant, the Caribbean has witnessed active criminal libel prosecution over the past 15 years, including in the Dominican Republic this January. Cases have also been recently brought in Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada.
Mudry continued: “IPI believes strongly in the importance of ethical, responsible journalism, and we recognise that there are times when the news media does indeed cross the line. But libel cases, where they exist, belong in civil courts, not in criminal courts. Journalists, particularly those investigating corruption or abuse of power, should not face imprisonment for their work – unfortunately, this is exactly what these laws provide for.
“When the media is forced to consider censoring itself in order to avoid criminal charges, the free flow of information – essential to any democracy – is threatened,” he added.
Particularly in the English-speaking Caribbean, many of the laws in place are near-exact replicas of colonial-era acts dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Lord Campbell’s Act (formally known as the Libel Act 1843), which serves as the foundation for a number of similar statutes across the Caribbean, was largely repealed in England itself in 2009.
IPI's mission to the Dominican Republic comes after a radio journalist, Jhonny Alberto Salazar, was found guilty of libelling a local lawyer and sentenced to six months in jail and fined one million pesos (Euro20,000) - 500 times the amount allowed under the country's laws. Salazar's conviction followed the Aug. 2011 murder of radio and television journalist José Agustín Silvestre de los Santos, who was at the time being prosecuted for defaming a public official. The visit will also concretise IPI's growing engagement in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
In Jamaica, IPI will follow up on its successful series of meetings in December in Kingston with government officials regarding a pending legislative proposal to reform the country's defamation laws. IPI will urge the Portia Simpson Miller administration, to finalise the proposed changes.
IPI believes that Barbados can solidify its reputation for having one of the freest media environments in the Caribbean by abolishing criminalized libel. The ruling Democratic Labour Party included changes to the Defamation Act in its 2008 electoral manifesto, but legislative efforts have since stalled.


The mission to Trinidad and Tobago coincides with IPI's 2012 Annual World Congress in Port of Spain from June 23-26. Criminal defamation will be a key topic of discussion among media experts and politicians from around the world at this year’s Congress.

Here are the cases from Dominican Republic:


Dominican journalist receives six-month sentence and harsh fine for defamation


Johnny Alberto Salazar, head of the radio station Vida FM and online newspaper vidadominicana.com in DR has been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and fined 1 million pesos (25,600 dollars), for libeling the lawyer...... “Parliament must urgently approve the bill decriminalizing press offences, which has been before it for almost five years, Reporters Without Borders said.  UPDATE - Journalists from around the country coming to support him at final sentencing.....


Gunmen kill journalist who linked Dominican Prosecutor to drugs(UPDATE 3)


Dominican Republic TV reporter Jose Silvestre was kidnapped and killed. Dominican journalist’s murder draws world attention with press release from Amnesty International. Police Chief instructed by the President to personally head investigation.......

Update 2 - Police names killers......  Update 3 - Ex Cincinnati Reds star Jose Rijo’s hotel raided in murder probe......


Journalist’s ghost haunts the Dominican Government (Update 2 The family speaks out)


A  source familiar with the investigation affirms that Gonzalez, whose frail health was widely known, died in the hands of authorities, “who were forced to drop his body from a helicopter into the Caribbean,” for which the Government seeks to protect the identities of those involved...... Finally after 17 years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hear the statements of the widow and children of university professor Narciso Gonzalez, "Narcisazo", who disappeared on 26 May 1994.......


Dominican censorship, judge jails TV host after defamation trial opens


Again Reporters Without Borders is after the censorship of information in the Dominican Republic after journalist was jailed for 3 months in a complete nonsense case by the DA to prevent freedom of speech and the truth to get out........


Dominican cops were hired to kill journalist, many more on the list(Update)


The contract hit against the lawyer and journalist Jordi Veras was planned from a cell in Santiago’s Rafey prison by the millionaire Adriano Roman, who paid former and active policemen to carry out the murder. Police investigators found in possession of an alleged ring of hired killers a list with the names of important national personalities and government officials...... UPDATE - Police officers forced to retire, don't expect them to go to jail....


Dominican newspaper closed, hope they can protect the editor from being killed(Update 2)


Police general's actions over the past 12 months can easily be compared to those of the worst African nations. Now Clave Digital has closed trying to protect their editor. Update - US Embassy reveals it funded Calve Digital, interested in freedom of press in the Dominican Republic.......


Dominican Watchdog Note | No reason to comment, these articles shows a clear cut problem for press freedom in DR and there are many more just enter the word "journalist" in the quick search box on our website.

Go back | Date: 17 May 2012
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