Friday, April 12, 2024

New act ‘too slow’ in coming


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This is how Editor Emeritus of The NATION, Harold Hoyte, has described Government’s movement towards passing freedom of information legislation and amending the laws on criminal defamation.
He told a meeting of the Inter-American Press Association at Hilton Barbados yesterday that Barbados was “one of the slowest” Caribbean countries to act on freedom of information legislation, while a number of regional countries had passed such laws in the last ten years.
He noted that Barbados was committed to removing criminal defamation from the statute books, but complained that “action is slow in coming”.
According to Hoyte, criminal defamation laws [as against civil defamation] allowed for the intrusion of police into media houses and provide for arrest and detention.
Such laws had been “roundly condemned” by international bodies such as the United Nations and the Organisation of American States, yet they existed in most independent Caribbean countries, carrying sentences of between one and five years, he pointed out.
“A number of countries, including Barbados and St Lucia, are committed to removing this from the statute books, but action is slow in coming,” he said.
Hoyte told the meeting that the passing of freedom of information legislation “has escalated in the past ten years with as many as six territories obliging, the first being Trinidad and Tobago in 1999 and the most recent being St Lucia.
“This has been a signal development in countries where it was long held that government information is not public information and so civil servants regard it as part of their job description to guard against the media having access to documents of any type, unless he or she has a personal interest in having details divulged.
“That is now history. But Barbados stands out as one of the slowest to act. Change has been promised for 2014, again by our Attorney General – but he is not the first holder of this post to make such a promise. What is encouraging is that a draft, not vastly different from what exists in neighbouring territories, has now emerged. There is hope.”
Hoyte also called for Barbados to sign the Declaration Of Chapultepec, a 20-year-old landmark that contains ten fundamental principles necessary for a free Press to comply with its essential role in a democracy.
“Barbados remains a stubborn objector on the ground that such freedoms are already guaranteed in law,” he explained. “I suspect those who remain aloof from this declaration hold fast to this weak generalisation and perhaps this meeting is an opportune time to invite Barbados to reconsider its decision of 2002.”
He also warned about “a creeping influence of powerful business interests” on Caribbean media content.
He said that although it was a pressure second to political interference, “we cannot ignore the implication it has for the people’s right to know and to be provided with unvarnished facts”.
Hoyte added that the threats faced by the print media were, “in order of impact”, legal hindrances, political pressure, commercial influence and professional shortcomings. (TY)

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