Gleaner– Reporters Without Borders, an international organisation that advocates for press freedom, is calling for Jamaica to withdraw the recent legislative amendment which would see media workers and others being fined of up to $1 million or one year in prison for taking photographs or sketches of accused persons.
Section 33 of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act was updated with the new penalties. The penalty is moving from a fine of up to $20 and one month in prison.
In a letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Reporters Without Borders, argues that the amendment is a significant escalation to existing penalties which it believes are already problematic.
The organisation contends that the amendment would have a chilling effect on journalists’ rights to report on information of the public interest.
“Taking photographs or sketching criminal defendants in or outside of courtrooms should never warrant criminal punishments. It is the State’s responsibility to protect journalists and media and to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference,” said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director, North America Bureau.
“While Jamaica currently ranks eighth out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, which is considered a ‘good situation’ for journalists, the penalties outlined in Section 33 are oppressive to a free press and exhibit a disregard for the Constitutional rights of the Jamaican people,” Fassihian continued.
It is against that background that the organisation wants Section 33 repealed.
Jamaica’s Press Association of Jamaica and Media Association of Jamaica have also called for the repeal of the same section of the law.