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Imbert to Government: Hold your hands on Libel Bill
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan on Friday appealed to the Opposition to support the Libel and Defamation Amendment Bill 2013, stating it was the right thing to do. Ramlogan said the Government was proud to be associated with this “particular legislative measure” because after 169 years, the PP Government was moving to abolish malicious criminal defamation, which he described as a step in the right direction, aimed at advancing a better relationship between the State and the media.
However, Diego Martin North/East Colm Imbert in response to Ramlogan in the House of Representatives said, “We must be very careful in this Parliament about what we do. Once it is done, it is impossible to reverse it.” The bill seeks to repeal Section 9 of the Libel and Defamation Act, consequently abolishing the offence of malicious defamatory libel. The existing Section 9 imposes a fine and one year of imprisonment on a person convicted of maliciously publishing any defamatory libel.
Imbert said the country would not see a future Parliament if the Government tampers with the legislation. Imbert said in the last three years, the Government had expressed anger about things that were published in the newspapers. Imbert said in March of 2013, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar attacked rogue elements in the media. The PM, Imbert said, claimed the media was not being fair to the Government on the reporting of its achievements.
Imbert said studies showed that 158 countries still had criminal defamation laws of some kind. Ramlogan cited the phone hacking scandal in United Kingdom, which revealed that the press was not as free and independent as the British citizenry thought, since the press operated not only with a political agenda, but a political vendetta. He said while no government in T&T had moved to charge or prosecute a journalist under this law, there have been some irresponsible journalists.
On the flip side, Ramlogan said by and large the press has been self-regulating by publishing corrections; he praised this. Ramlogan said in many countries the media can take a hard line position and “beat up on you until they completely bury you.”