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Gov't, Opposition disagree over treatment of music in anti-gang Bill report

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 05, 2014    

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Government and Opposition members of a joint select committee which reviewed the controversial Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act are still split over the provisions of section 15 (1) of the anti-gang Bill.

This was evident in the majority and minority positions taken by the respective sides in the report on the committee's review of the Bill tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday.

Section 15 (1) provides for the use of signs, symbols, songs, et cetera "to promote criminal activity" to be treated as a criminal act by the police.

Government members expressed support for the provision, on the basis that there is scientific evidence to support the notion that cultural expressions can reinforce behaviour.

"It was also felt that if persons consumed a steady diet of messaging about killing informers and killing the police, et cetera, it would have an impact on people's behaviour and consciousness. Additionally, it was felt that in Jamaica, where there is a high murder rate, there is need to tackle those issues by changing the mindset," they stated in their majority position.

However, Opposition members expressed the view that the danger was that the section limits its focus to the activities of gangs only, and not persons generally, and targets songs rather than all forms of activities by which incitement takes place.

"The proper course would be to codify the common law in legislation, setting out the penalties for breaches of the law and carefully provide for all forms of incitement, whether in music or otherwise," the Opposition said.

They added that the proposed section could easily be interpreted as censorship of the art form, as judges would determine how a song "promotes or facilitates a gang's criminal activity".

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