Delegation to advocate for journalist safety and the repeal of criminal defamation laws
VIENNA, April 9, 2013 – As part of its flagship campaign for the repeal of criminal-defamation laws in the region, the International Press Institute (IPI) will again conduct an official mission in the Caribbean, visiting six countries from 15 April to 6 May 2013.
The IPI delegation will consist of: Alison Bethel McKenzie, IPI executive director; John Yearwood, The Miami Herald’s national and world editor and president of the IPI North American National Committee; Wesley Gibbings, president, Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM); Scott Griffen, IPI press freedom adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean; Bert Wilkinson, ACM executive member from Guyana; and Kiran Maharaj, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association.
“IPI’s mission to the Caribbean is very timely in light of the continued challenges faced by regional media and demonstrates IPI’s tremendous commitment to safeguard press freedom in the Caribbean,” said Dawn Thomas, group chief executive officer of Trinidad’s One Caribbean Media Ltd. and a member of IPI’s Executive Board.
“There are just too many existing laws that can impede the work of journalists and expose them to criminal sanctions. I look forward to co-operation from the regional governments on this mission so that real and significant progress could be made in the pursuit of a free and responsible press in the region,” Thomas added.
In visits to Antigua and Barbuda, the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, and the Republic of Suriname, delegates will seek to win support among journalists, editors, civil-society organisations, and both governmental and inter-governmental officials for the repeal of criminal defamation and insult laws. Delegates will also discuss the safety and protection of journalists.
In the Dominican Republic, the delegation will follow up on IPI’s successful visit to the country in June 2012 and congratulate government officials on removing prison penalties for defamation from the draft penal code. IPI will also advise on changes to Law No. 6132, which regulates press activities in the Dominican Republic and which maintains criminal punishments for defamation and insult.
During the mission, IPI will seek to gain further support for the Declaration of Port of Spain, which calls for the abolition of ‘insult laws’ and criminal defamation legislation in the Caribbean. The Declaration has already been signed by numerous regional and global media groups.
In the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the delegation will encourage further progress on efforts to modernise the country’s defamation law, as well as consolidate partnerships, including training initiatives, with both the Trinidadian government and national media houses that began with IPI’s 2012 World Congress in Port of Spain.
“IPI and ACM look forward to continuing their important advocacy work on the issue of criminal defamation in the Caribbean. While press freedom is already relatively strong in many Caribbean states, we believe that the repeal of criminal defamation is critical to ensuring that no journalist is pressured to self-censor, or faces the threat of prison for doing his or her job,” Bethel McKenzie, IPI’s executive director, stated.
Wesley Gibbings, ACM president, added: “This round of Caribbean missions is singularly important as an effective intervention to promote the value of press freedom as a vital component of the development process. IPI’s leadership of the process brings valuable international perspectives to the table together with credentials earned over many years. The ACM is proud to have such a partner in a project of immense value to the people of this region.”
The mission occurs in the shadow of the continued imprisonment of independent Cuban journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who has been accused of criminal insult under Article 144.1 of the Cuban Penal Code. A recent IPI investigation revealed that all 16 independent states in the Caribbean retain some form of criminal defamation law and that six had prosecuted journalists under such a law within the last 15 years.
As part of its commitment to promoting the highest standards of journalism, IPI will lead training workshops for journalists in both Guyana and the Dominican Republic, focusing on journalistic ethics and techniques of investigative journalism.
Following the mission, Bethel McKenzie will deliver the keynote speech during World Press Freedom Day observances in Willemstad, Curaçao on May 3rd, at the invitation of the Curaçao National Commission for UNESCO. Her remarks will focus on criminal defamation and journalist safety in the Caribbean.
Bethel McKenzie added: “IPI is grateful for the invitation extended by the Curaçao National Commission for UNESCO to participate in this important regional gathering, which we view as a chance to reinforce our commitment to defending and promoting independent and professional media throughout the Caribbean.”
IPI, based in Vienna, is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.
Created in 1950, IPI today has members in more than 120 countries. It is a politically neutral body and holds consultative status at the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
Inquiries to: Scott Griffen, Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean, International Press Institute (IPI), Spiegelgasse 2, 1010 Vienna, Austria. Tel: +43 1 512 90 11. Fax: +43 1 512 90 14. E-mail: sgriffen(at) freemedia. at