JUSTICE Minister Senator Mark Golding says he is hopeful that the proposed defamation reform Bill will be brought to Parliament before the end of the legislative year this monthend.
Golding was responding to the International Press Institute (IPI), whose executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie had written to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Milller urging her administration to pass the Bill during this legislative period.
"The Office of Parliamentary Counsel, which has been drafting the Bill, promised me yesterday that it will receive the revised draft today (Wednesday)," Golding said. "It will be tight, but we are pushing hard," the minister said yesterday.
The IPI — a global network of publishers, editors and leading journalists — said approval of this Bill would make Jamaica the only independent country in the Caribbean to abolish all forms of criminal libel.
"This would mark a milestone for the region and provide evidence that Jamaica is on a path to becoming a haven for press freedom," McKenzie said.
IPI delegates, she said, have visited Jamaica twice in the last two years to lobby for the repeal of criminal libel laws, with the last visit being in June 2012.
During the nearly two-week mission, IPI delegates met with representatives of government, law enforcement, media, and civil society in Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago as part of its campaign to decriminalise defamation across the Caribbean.
McKenzie said the IPI has been particularly heartened by a statement from Jamaica's justice ministry last fall that passing the defamation reform Bill was a "priority" for the Government.
She pointed out that the set of desired amendments to the defamation Bill, which have been submitted by the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) and the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), were important and reflected current international standards on defamation legislation.
Both the MAJ and PAJ have been lobbying for criminal libel to be removed from the law books to protect journalists from imprisonment when they are accused of libel.
The MAJ and PAJ also want to include a wire service defence which would protect journalists from libel when international media outlets are used as sources.
"We support their inclusion into the final version of the bill to be presented to Parliament," McKenzie said.
She noted that the IPI is committed to promoting responsible, ethical journalism, and would continue to support media
development and professionalism in Jamaica and across the Caribbean.
Nearly all independent states in the Caribbean have criminal defamation laws on their books that establish a penalty of at least one year in prison. The Caribbean has witnessed several criminal libel prosecutions over the last 15 years, including two in the Dominican Republic this year.
The IPI's campaign and the mission, in particular, were prompted by concern that criminal defamation laws could be used by prominent figures to chill critical opinion and squelch investigations into alleged wrongdoing in order to protect their economic and political interests.