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IPI says it received no explicit commitment on the part of Gov’t to repeal country’s defamation laws

shot0002The International Press Institute sent a mission to Guyana earlier this year as part of a lobby to get Caribbean Governments, including Guyana, to repeal criminal defamation laws.

The Institute said it did not receive a concrete commitment from the Government, but was satisfied that top officials generally agreed with its position on why repeal of the law is needed.

When IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie first expressed the Institute’s  opinion about criminal defamation, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying “Jail would be a good place for a lot of publishers and editors to be.” However, the Institute said the Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds, later appeared more open to the idea of repealing criminal defamation, with the understanding that the media could still be held liable in civil suits.

The Institute said the Guyanese opposition was notably more supportive of repealing criminal libel, quoting AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan as saying that the party would support such a move.

Representatives of the Institute met Governance Advisor Gail Teixeira who was quoted as saying that while she could not make any specific promises, the Government was “not opposed to changing it [criminal libel law].”

The International Press Institute is the world’s oldest organisation dedicated to promoting the right to information.

The aim of the Institute’s campaign is to encourage Government officials in the Caribbean to repeal outdated laws that criminally punish defamation, which includes, libel, seditious libel, contempt of authority, and insult, both of individuals and of the state itself. In nearly all cases, the Institute said these laws have been left over from colonial powers, for which they served as a convenient tool for preserving authority and stamping out criticism. The Institute said its goal was not to exempt the media from any kind of oversight, but rather to: Remove the power to abuse criminal law to discipline the media profession and b) Create a positive legal environment that respects the role of the press in society and that focuses primarily on ensuring that the victims of false or misleading press coverage can adequately redress any damage done to their reputations.

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