Report to the Midyear Meeting
March 28 - 30, 2008
A withdrawal of ads from the privately owned Stabroek News by some 29 government ministries, agencies and state owned corporations commenced in November 2006 and continues. The boycott has been extended to ads placed by the Auditor General, the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defense Force.
In 2007 a regional media team headed by Mr Harold Hoyte had offered to intercede and to advise the government on a fair system of allocation of advertisements but had been rebuffed. The withdrawal has been widely condemned by local business, trade union and non governmental organizations and by international press freedom organizations namely the CPU, IAPA and IPI. A letter is also being sent to CARICOM. Editorials have been published in several regional newspapers criticizing the withdrawal of ads and calling for a fair system for the allocation of government advertisements.
The ad boycott has been widely condemned as an attack on press freedom designed to punish Stabroek News for its independent and critical editorial coverage of the government in direct breach of the provisions of Article 7 of the Declaration of Chapultepec.
Apart from this ad boycott, the main complaint about the government from the press freedom standpoint is that it maintains a radio monopoly and has refused to issue licenses for private stations.
Apart from the above its record on press freedom has been reasonably good.
Journalists are allowed to practice in an unfettered environment in Jamaica.
The new Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government which was elected on September 3, 2007, appointed a 12 member committee to make recommendations for the modernization of the country's libel and slander laws. Representatives from the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) and the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) were included. The Committee handed in its report earlier this month which called for wide ranging changes to existing laws. Media interest on the committee pushed for the adoption of the Sullivan Standard to be included in our laws. Other interests were opposed.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the Commission) has ruled that it will not scrutinize the fairness of the award in the Anthony Abrahams v. The Gleaner Company and Mr. Dudley Stokes case (the Abrahams case), choosing rather, to defer to the rulings of the local courts on the issue of quantum of damages.
In 2004, Dr. Dudley Stokes, former Editor-in-Chief of the Gleaner Company, on behalf of the media house, had presented a petition against the State of Jamaica to the Commission. It was argued in the Petition filed that the decision in the Abrahams case was based on the undeveloped state of domestic law in the country which made it possible for awards to be made which threatened the continued existence of media houses and by extension, the most popular channel of information to the people of Jamaica. Such a ruling, it was argued, had implications, not only for the Gleaner Company but for the right of the Jamaican people to freedom of expression and to the receipt of information.
In an eighteen-page ruling, the Commission declined the invitation to look at the impact of the award on the right to freedom of expression in Jamaica, and by extension the legal framework which facilitated such an award. The Commission chose rather to defer to the local courts rulings in relation to the quantum of the award. The Commission stated that it tended to defer to domestic courts on the issue of the appropriateness of an award of damages as local courts were in the best position to determine the numerous factors involved in arriving at the appropriateness of an award.
There have been no developments with respect to press freedom in Trinidad and Tobago. Fortunately, Trinidad and Tobago continues to enjoy a free press subject to the country's libel laws. Since these laws are descended from English jurisprudence liberation of those laws in England are bound to affect Trinidad and Tobago's. Recently, for example, there was a an English case the result of which was to give investigative journalists increased protection in that a mistake made during an investigation does not now constitute in itself a ground for libel.