I found this article and though it was important to share. I share the same sentiment that our press MUST have the right and freedom to not only write freely about issues on all levels but also to be free from the fear of prosecution and victimization from those in office. This will be a long one but a must read, especially for those in the Media.
Originally published in The Nassau Guardian on November 08, 2012 by Alfred Sears, an attorney, former member of Parliament and former attorney general of The Bahamas.
In a democratic society there is no greater right than the right of citizens to know what the government is doing on their behalf, which includes the right to hold opinions, to receive and express ideas and information without interference. The constitution guarantees our right to freely express ideas ourselves by engaging in open political debate amongst ourselves as well as to engage in political discourse with our elected officials and with candidates who offer themselves for public office.
Article 23 of the constitution guarantees freedom of expression to every person in The Bahamas that provides that:
1. Except with his consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purpose of this article the said freedoms include freedom to hold opinions, to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with is correspondence.
2. Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this article to the extent that the law in question makes provision -
(a) which is reasonably required -
(i) in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
(ii) for the purpose of protecting the rights, reputations and freedom of other persons, preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of the courts, or regulating telephony, telegraphy, posts, wireless, broadcasting, television, public exhibitions or public entertainment; or
(iii) which imposes restrictions upon persons holding office under the Crown or upon members of disciplined force, and except so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
This guarantee is meaningless unless there is reasonable access to the broadcast media and protection of the media. Therefore, the issuance of private broadcast licenses in The Bahamas beginning around 1994 has allowed greater freedom of expression in The Bahamas.
The Court of Appeal of Belize in the Belize Broadcasting Authority vs Courtney (1986) 38 WIR 79, dealing with provisions identical to Article 23 of the Bahamian Constitution, under the Constitution of Belize, held that to broadcast on radio and television “today and integral part of the freedom of expression and to place the need for the authority's consent before one can do what is an integral part of the freedom constitutes little hindrance to the freedom” Access to the broadcast media is especially important in an archipelago, like The Bahamas, where people are scattered over many islands separated by a wide expanse of water.
The Privy Council has held that the fear of criticism cannot justify hindering the public access to the broadcast media and access to the broadcast media by political opponents. In the case of Hector v. attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda (1990) 2 All E. R. 103, per Lord Bridge, held that: “In a free democratic society it is almost too obvious to need stating that those who hold office in government and who are responsible for public administration must always be open to criticism. any attempt to stifle or fetter such criticism amounts to political censorship of the most insidious and objectionable kind. At the same time it is no less obvious that the very purpose of criticism leveled at those who have the conduct of stewardship is to persuade the electorate that the opponents would make a better job of it that those presently holding office...“.
In the United States, the First Amendment of the constitution declares that the Congress shall not abridge the freedom of the press. However, in the Constitution of The Bahamas, there is no specific mention of the press or Guarantee of press freedom. In The Bahamas, the laws of defamation and a fear of offending the Prime Minister or other elected officials often places a restraint on robust investigative reporting on politically sensitive matters. A number of journalists in The Bahamas have been prosecuted, sued or threatened with prosecution for criticizing aspects of the public administration in The Bahamas. The community interests, integrity and honesty in public administration can be compromised when the people and the press do not enjoy absolute privilege to criticize public officials. As the United States Supreme Court state, in the case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide open and may well include vehement caustic and sometimes unpleasant sharp attacks in government officials, an occasional erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate. Save and except in cases of malice, the press should be unfettered in its criticism and scrutiny of public administration in the Bahamas.
I therefore recommend that Article 23 of the Constitution be amended to include a specific guarantee for the freedom of the press in order to better protect the community’s interest in integrity in public administration through robust scrutiny by an independent press.
FiWeBelize, hereby calls on the Government of Belize to amend our constitution to include such clauses to allow true and full freedom of the press and of it’s citizens in this regard and to ensure that their freedoms are allowed at all times.
- The Amandala is a popular weekly newspaper which widely read amongst the population of Belize
- The Belize Times is a newspaper that is officially regarded as the mouthpiece of the People’s United Party (PUP)
- The Guardian is a newspaper that is officially regarded as the mouthpiece of the United Democratic Party (UDP).
- The Reporter is another weekly newspapers which focuses on top news, sports and feature stories
- The San Pedro sun is a weekly “tourism and community orientated” newspaper published on Ambergris Caye
- Love FM is a commercial radio station which focuses on broadcasting popular music and interesting news
- Estereo Amor is a privately owned radio station which broadcasts in the Spanish
- KREM-FM is a privately owned commercial radio station which broadcasts music and news
- Wave Radio is a political radio organisation that is associated with the UDP
- Vibes Radio is a political radio organisation that is associated with the PUP
Recent cases in Belize have proven that despite having outlines that should protect the freedom of our press, that freedom is still not theirs and that the press can have the government boots at their throat at any time. Here are a few examples, there are much more but I’ll leave some research to you. 🙂
Albert Vaughn Arrested for covering Garbage Strike – August 2014
P.U.P. activist Albert Vaughan, who was arrested on Monday along with dozens of disgruntled B.M.L. employees for loitering and participating in an illegal gathering, was back in court this morning to answer to charges brought against him. Vaughn, you would recall, was covering a spur-of-the-moment protest in front of City Hall where angry sanitation workers had dumped litter on the street. The opinionated radio personality was arrested on Queen Street later that morning when he followed behind a company bus in which the employees were riding. This morning, a group of supporters congregated outside the courts where Vaughn’s case was subsequently adjourned.
Channel 5 and Regulation
In 2010, the Government of Belize demonstrated the extent of its regulatory power of the media in an incident with Channel 5. Produced by Great Belize Productions, Channel 5, like other major television stations, broadcast government press releases, interviews, and programs. In a statement released on 7 December, 2010, the Government of Belize severed formal relations with Channel 5 and Great Belize Productions. The government claimed that Channel 5 had violated its license terms under the Belize Broadcasting and Television Act, specifically the code of ethics broadcast media are expected to maintain. Additionally, Channel 5 refused to air a government-produced video program, further violating the Broadcasting and Television Act. This incident demonstrates the implementation of media regulation in Belize.
Investigative journalist Melvin Flores fled to the United States in February 2003 after receiving threats, presumably related to his reports on a stolen U.S.-owned Hummer sport utility vehicle that was brought into Belize, allegedly with the help of government officials.
- Said Musa vs Ann-Marie Williams of the Reporter Press Ltd
- Lois Young Barrow vs Andrew Steinhauer of The Belize Times (a)
- Lois Young Barrow vs Andrew Steinhauer of The Belize Times (b)
- Dean Barrow vs Arthur Saldivar
- George Price vs Harry Lawrence of the Reporter Press Ltd
The Constitution of Belize safeguards the freedoms of press and speech, there are provisions for the curtailment of these freedoms, including a law forbidding citizens from questioning financial statements submitted by public officials, both orally and in writing. Media outlets are subject to libel laws which quite honestly favors the Government, encouraging responsible and ethical journalism practices. Most recently revised in 2000, the Belize Broadcasting and Television Act details the standards under which all broadcast media are regulated.
First drafted in 1984, the Broadcasting and Television Act extends the notions of professional and responsible journalistic practices outlined in the Constitution, and applies them to broadcast media. The Act establishes the Belize Broadcasting Authority and the Board of Directors, equipping both entities with regulatory power. The BBA has the right to prior restraint concerning certain types of broadcasts, such as ones concerning political issues, national security, or emergency situation. When previewing such broadcasts, the BBA holds the right to delete defamatory or libelous material and in Belize, anything spoken of the government in power and it’s extensions can be considered as such as the “Ministers Discretion“.
BROADCASTING AND TELEVISION ACT
Most recently revised in 2000, the Belize Broadcasting and Television Act details the standards under which all broadcast media are regulated. First drafted in 1984, the Broadcasting and Television Act extends the notions of professional and responsible journalistic practices outlined in the Constitution, and applies them to broadcast media. The Act establishes the Belize Broadcasting Authority and the Board of Directors, equipping both entities with regulatory power. Additionally, the Act details the licensing procedure for radio and television stations, explaining how such licenses are obtained, maintained, and taken away.
REVISED EDITION 2000
SHOWING THE LAW AS AT 31ST DECEMBER, 2000
This is a revised edition of the law, prepared by the Law Revision Commissioner under the authority of the Law Revision Act, Chapter 3 of the Laws of Belize, Revised Edition 1980 – 1990.
BROADCASTING AND TELEVISION
1st March, 1984
1. This Act may be cited as the Broadcasting and Television Act.
2. For the purpose of this Act-
"Authority" means the Belize Broadcasting Authority established under section 3 (1);
"Board" means the Board of Directors established under section 3 (3);
"broadcast" means transmission by means of a radio station or a television station;
"licence" means a licence issued to a person permitting that person to operate a radio station or television station;
"licensee" means the holder of a licence;
"Minister" means Minister responsible for broadcasting;
"radio station” means-
(a) a station for transmission, by means of radio waves, of matter designed for aural reception by the general public; or
(b) a station for transmission, by means of a wired network connecting a transmitting instrument to a number of receiving instruments, of matter designed for aural reception by the general public, and includes the studio, transmitting station and technical equipment provided for use in connection with the transmission;
"radio waves" means electromagnetic waves propagated in free space without the use of artificial guides;
"Secretary" means the person for the time being performing the functions of secretary to the Board;
"television station" means-
(a) a station for the transmission by means of radio waves of fixed or moving images and associated sound designed for reception by the general public or by any person or class of persons; or
(b) a station for the transmission by means of a wired or other guided network connecting a transmitting instrument to a number of receiving instruments of matter designed for visual reception by the general public or by any person or class of persons, and includes the studio, transmitting station and technical equipment used for the purposes of such transmission.
Establishment of Belize Broadcasting Authority and Board of Directors.
3.-(1) For the purposes of this Act there is established an Authority, known as the Belize Broadcasting Authority, which shall be a body corporate having perpetual succession and a common seal which shall be judicially noticed and which may sue and be sued in its corporate name and may make contracts and hold and dispose of land of whatever tenure and other property for the purpose of carrying out its functions under this Act.
(2) All deeds, documents or other instruments requiring the seal of the Authority shall be sealed with the common seal of the Authority in the presence of the Chairman and one other member of the Authority who shall sign every such deed, document or other instrument to which the seal is affixed.
(3) There is established a Board of Directors for the purposes of directing the affairs of the Authority, and the constitution of the Board shall be as set out in the Schedule hereto.
(4) The Minister may,from time to time by Order published in the Gazette, amend the Schedule.
Functions of Authority
4.-(1) The functions of the Authority are-
(a) to advise the Minister on any matter within its knowledge or in respect of which the Minister seeks advice;
(b) to advise the Minister regarding the terms and conditions subject to which licences to which this Act relates are to be issued;
(c) to obtain from any licensee such information as may be prescribed relating to the operations and programmes run by that licensee;
(d) to ensure that the services provided by radio stations and television stations are in accordance with plans prepared by the Authority and approved by the Minister;
(e) to ensure that-
(i) the technical equipment in use at radio stations and television stations is maintained by the operators of those stations in accordance with such standards and practices as the Board considers appropriate;
(ii) the operations at radio stations and television stations are carried out in compliance with such standards and practices as the Board considers appropriate;
(iii) the terms and conditions of licences are complied with;
(f) to institute legal proceedings in any court of law on any matter relating to the proper management and regulation of radio and television in Belize and for this purpose it shall be deemed a Public Authority within the meaning of section 2 of the Public Authorities Protection Act;
(g) to perform such other functions in relation to radio and television stations as may be prescribed.
(2) The Authority may determine-
(a) the hours during which programmes may be broadcast or televised;
(b) the conditions subject to which advertisements may be broadcast or televised by licensees; and
(c) the types of programmes which may be broadcast or televised and the use of certain programmes of an educational, cultural, sporting or scientific nature or such programmes as the Authority may reasonably require in the public interest at such time or times as may be prescribed.
(3) The Authority may, in exercising its functions under this section, consult with the operators of radio and television stations.
Radio and television licences.
5.-(1) No person shall establish or operate any radio or television station or use any apparatus or installation for the purposes of broadcasting except under and in accordance with a licence issued to him by the Minister and upon payment of such fee as the Minister prescribes.
(2) An application for a licence must be made in writing to the Chairman of the Board in such form and containing such particulars as the Minister approves.
(3) The Board shall within four weeks from the date of its receiving an application submit that application to the Minister with a recommendation for the grant or refusal of the application, stating in either case the reasons for its recommendation.
(4) The Minister may,upon receiving the recommendation of the Board, issue a licence to the applicant on such terms and conditions as he thinks fit or he may refuse the application.
(5) Every licence issued under this Act is effective for such period from the date of issue as the Minister may determine in each case and is renewable for a like period unless the Minister otherwise directs.
Inspection of records
6. The Authority may, for the purpose of performing its functions under this Act, by notice in writing, require the operator of a radio station or television station to appear before the Authority and present such records in connection with such station as the Authority requires.
Remuneration of Board members
7. Members of the Board are entitled to payment of such travelling and other allowances as the Minister may approve.
8.-(1) The Board shall, not later than three months after the end of each financial year, submit to the Minister a report of the operations of the Authority during the preceding year and the report shall include-
(a) information regarding the performance of licensees during the year under review;
(b) a summary of the decisions of the Board in respect of any matter it has acted upon; and
(c) detailed information in respect of any matter that the Board considers to be of public importance in relation to broadcasting and television.
(2) A copy of the report referred to in subsection (1) shall be printed and laid on the tables of the Senate and of the House of Representatives and published in the Gazette not later than 3 months after those reports are completed.
9.-(1) The Minister may, in consultation with the Authority, make regulations on any of the following matters-
(a) station and programme identification, in the course of broadcasting and televising of programmes;
(b) the identification of sponsors and speakers;
(c) the records to be kept by licensees and the time, place and manner of their production to the Authority;
(d) the control of the character and standards of programmes for broadcasting and televising by licensees;
(e) prescribing the geographic area of operation of a licence;
(f) the proportioning of time allocated for advertising during programmes broadcast by licensees and the control to be exercised in respect of the nature of such advertising;
(g) the allocation of time by licensees to the broadcasting and televising of matters of religious, political or industrial controversy and the ensuring of the preservation of due impartiality in programmes relating to such matters;
(h) the allocation of time by licensees to the broadcasting and televising of matters of an educational, cultural, sporting or scientific nature; and
(i) the prescribing of anything that is by this Act authorised or required to be prescribed.
(2) Any regulation made under this section shall be subject to negative resolution of the National Assembly.
10.-(1) Any person who-
(a) establishes or operates a radio or television station or establishes or uses any apparatus or installation for the purposes of broadcasting or televising without having first obtained a licence under this Act;
(b) fails to comply with a notice given under section 6;
(c) contravenes any of the regulations; or
(d) fails to comply with the conditions of a licence that has been issued to him, commits an offence and shall be liable to a fine of five thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term of twelve months or to both; and in the case of a conviction under paragraph (a) herein the installation or apparatus in respect of which the conviction is obtained shall be liable to forfeiture.
(2) The Minister may, not withstanding any penalty a court imposes on a person under subsection (1), revoke the licence issued to that person.
Owner or occupier on whose premises broadcasting apparatus or installation is found.
11.-(1) Proceedings in respect of an offence under section 10 (1) may be instituted summarily.
(2) In any proceedings in respect of an offence under section 10 (1), a person in possession of premises, in or on which there is found any broadcasting or television apparatus or installation in respect of which a licence is required and none has been obtained under this Act or in respect of which no licence is in force, shall, unless the contrary is proved, be deemed to be the person who established, or as the case may be, is using that apparatus or installation.
Special obligations of licensee.
12. A licensee shall, before the commencement of the operation of a radio or television station and every year thereafter on the anniversary date of such commencement, certify to the satisfaction of the Board that he has complied with all the technical requirements made of him by the Telecommunications Act or any other law for the time being in force and has obtained the necessary licence or permit.
13. All expenses incurred in the administration of this Act are to be defrayed out of moneys voted by the National Assembly for the purpose.
1.-(1) The Board shall consist of eight persons appointed by the Minister, two of whom shall be the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry responsible for broadcasting and the Director of Telecommunications (appointed under the Telecommunications Act), ex officio and a third representing the television industry.
(2) The Minister shall appoint one of the members of the Board to be its Chairman.
2. Subject to this Schedule, each member of the Board shall hold office for a period of one year but is eligible for re-appointment.
3. A member may at any time resign his office by instrument in writing addressed to the Chairman who shall immediately forward it to the Minister and, as from the date of receipt of the instrument by the Minister, unless some other date is mentioned in the instrument, that member shall cease to be a member of the Board.
4. The Chairman may at any time resign his office by instrument in writing addressed to the Minister and, as from the date of the receipt of the instrument by the Minister, unless some other date is mentioned in the instrument, the Chairman shall cease to be Chairman and also to be a member of the Board.
5. A member who fails to attend three consecutive meetings of the Board without reasonable cause shall cease to be a member thereof.
6. Where a vacancy occurs in the membership of the Board, the Minister may appoint a person to fill that vacancy for the unexpired portion of the period of one year.
7. The Board shall meet at least once every quarter or at such shorter intervals as may be necessary for the transaction of business.
8. Meetings of the Board shall be at such places and times as the Board determines.
9. The Chairman may at any time call a special meeting and shall do so within seven days of his being requested to do so in writing by not less than three members of the Board.
10. The Chairman shall preside at all meetings of the Board but where at any meeting the Chairman is absent the members present and constituting a quorum may elect a person from among themselves to be Chairman for that meeting.
11. A majority of the members of the Board shall constitute a quorum.
12. Decisions of the Board shall be by a majority of votes.
13. Every member of the Board shall have one vote but in case where the voting is equal the Chairman has, in addition to his original vote, a casting vote.
14. The appointment, removal, death or resignation of a member of the Board shall be notified in the Gazette.
15. Subject to the provisions of section 3 (2) of the Act, all documents made by, and decisions of, the Board shall be signed by the Chairman or by any member of the Board authorised to act in that behalf or by the Secretary.
16. Subject to this Schedule, the Board may regulate its own procedure.
Libel and Defamation
The law governing defamation in Belize is the Libel and Defamation Act, which went into effect December 31, 2000. Publication of a “fair and accurate report published in a newspaper or broadcast of proceedings of a public meeting” shall be considered privileged unless it is proved that such report or publication was published maliciously. In addition, “no criminal prosecution for libel or defamation shall commence against the publisher, proprietor or editor responsible for the publication of a newspaper for any libel published without the order of the court.”
When it comes to damages for defamation in Belize, the case must be considered “in the light of all its relevant and prevailing circumstances, and without the impediments of inapplicable restraints.” Hence, damages are judged on the singular merits and impressions or a given case, “which should take into account its special features [sic] the heinous nature of the defamation, the position and standing of the person defamed, the resulting harm and hurt caused, the [the] motivation behind the publication, the extent of the falsity and circumstances of aggravation, and the conduct of the defamers before, during and after the action for libel has been brought.” (Jagan v Burnham (1973) 20 WIR 96)
Email Defamation in Belize
In Belize, an email to an individual, which is not directed to the public at large, is not considered defamatory. However, if it can be proven that the email was published and sent via email to another person, and the emotional and psychological pain which the claimant suffered by virtue of its publication was significant, the injured party may be granted a defamation trial or hearing. (In the Supreme Court of Belize A.D. 2008, Claim No. 289 of 2008 between Rodolfo Ramos and Simeon Herrera)
Media Defamation Regulations in Belize
Although the Belize Constitution protects the right to freedom of expression, there are several legal limitations to that right. By way of illustration, the government may impose a fine of up to US$2,500 and imprison anyone for up to three years who will question the financial disclosures of public officials. Newspapers are subject to criminal defamation laws, and the Belize Broadcasting Authority holds the right to preview broadcasts with political content and remove material which it deems to be libelous.
Libel and Defamation Act
REVISED EDITION 2000
SHOWING THE LAW AS AT 31ST DECEMBER, 2000
This is a revised edition of the law, prepared by the Law Revision Commissioner under the authority of the Law Revision Act, Chapter 3 of the Laws of Belize, Revised Edition 1980 – 1990.
31st December, 1953
1. This Act may be cited as the Libel and Defamation Act.
2. In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires:-
“broadcast” or “broadcasting” means publication for general reception, as part of any programme or service provided through a broadcasting station within Belize, by means of telecommunication, within the meaning of the Telecommunications Act; and, where words are broadcast by means of telecommunication as defined by the Telecommunications Act, in accordance with a licence granted under that Act, this Act shall apply as if the transmission were broadcast within the definition herein before contained;
“broadcasting station” means any station operated by any statutory body or by Government, or in respect of which a licence granted by the Minister under the Broadcasting and Television Act is in force, being a licence which (by whatever form of words) authorises the use of the station for the purpose of providing broadcasting services by radio telecommunication intended for general reception.
Admissibility in evidence, in mitigation of damages in action for defamation, of apology.
3. In any action for defamation, it shall be lawful for the defendant (after notice in writing of his intentions to do so, duly given to the plaintiff within a reasonable time before the trial of the action) to give in evidence, in mitigation of damages, that he made or offered an apology to the plaintiff for the defamation before the commencement of the action, or as soon afterwards as he had an opportunity of doing so, in case the action has been commenced before there was an opportunity of making or offering apology.
Right of defendant in action for libel to plead absence of malice, etc., and apology.
4. In an action for libel contained in any public newspaper or other periodical publication, it shall be competent for the defendant to plead that the libel was inserted in the newspaper or other periodical publication without actual malice, and without gross negligence, and that before the commencement of the action, or at the earliest opportunity afterwards, he inserted in the newspaper or other periodical publication a full apology for the libel, or, if the newspaper or periodical publication in which the libel appeared is ordinarily published at intervals exceeding one week, had offered to publish the said apology in any newspaper or periodical publication to be selected by the plaintiff in the action; and to such defence to the action it shall be competent to the plaintiff to reply generally, denying the whole of such defence.
Defendant not to plead matters allowed by 1843 c. 96, without payment into court.
5. It shall not be competent for any defendant in such action to set up any such defence, without at the same time making a payment of money into court by way of amends, and every such defence so filed without payment of money into court shall be deemed a nullity.
Slander of women.
6. Words spoken and published which impute unchastity or adultery to any woman or girl shall not require special damage to render them actionable, but in any action for words spoken and made actionable by this section, a plaintiff shall not recover more costs than damages, unless the judge certifies that there was reasonable ground for bringing the action.
7. For the purposes of the law of libel and slander, the broadcasting of words shall be treated as publication in permanent form.
Privilege of newspaper reports of proceedings in court.
8. A fair and accurate report in any newspaper or broadcast of proceedings publicly heard before any court exercising judicial authority shall, if published contemporaneously with such proceedings, be privileged, but nothing in this section shall authorise the publication of any blasphemous or indecent matter.
Newspaper reports of proceedings of public meetings and of certain bodies and persons privileged.
9.-(1) A fair and accurate report published in any newspaper or broadcast of the proceedings of a public meeting, or (except where neither the public nor any newspaper reporter is admitted) of any meeting of a city council, town council, school board or of any board or committee formed, constituted or appointed under the provisions of any Act, or of any meeting of any commissioners authorised to act by any Act or otherwise appointed by a Minister or other lawful warrant or authority, select or standing committee of the National Assembly, and the publication at the request of the head of any Government Department, commissioner or the Commissioner of Police, of any notice or report issued by them for the information of the public shall be privileged, unless it is proved that such report or publication was published or made maliciously:
(a) nothing in this section shall authorise the publication of any blasphemous or indecent matter;
(b) the protection intended to be afforded by this section shall not be available as a defence in any proceedings if it is proved that the defendant has been requested to insert in the newspaper in which the report or other publication complained of appeared a reasonable letter or statement by way of contradiction or explanation, of such report or other publication and has refused or neglected to insert it;
(c) nothing contained in this section shall be deemed or construed to limit or abridge any privilege now by law existing, or to protect the publication of any matter not of public concern and the publication of which is not for the public benefit.
(2) For the purposes of this section, “public meeting” means any meeting bona fide and lawfully held for a lawful purpose, and for the furtherance or discussion of any matter of public concern, whether the admission thereto is general or restricted.
Consolidation of actions.
10.-(1) It shall be competent for a judge or the court, upon an application by or on behalf of two or more defendants in actions in respect to the same, or substantially the same, libel brought by one and the same person, to make an order for the consolidation of such actions, so that they shall be tried together, and after such order has been made, and before the trial of the said actions, the defendants in any new actions instituted in respect of the same, or substantially the same, libel shall also be entitled to be joined in a common action upon a joint application being made by such new defendants and the defendants in the actions already consolidated.
(2) In a consolidated action under this section, the court or jury shall assess the whole amount of the damages (if any) in one sum, but a separate verdict shall be taken for or against each defendant in the same way as if the actions consolidated had been tried separately, and if the court or jury finds a verdict against the defendant or defendants in more than one of the actions so consolidated, it or they shall proceed to apportion the amount of damages which it or they so find between and against the said last- mentioned defendants, and the judge at the trial, if he awards to the plaintiff the costs of the action, shall thereupon make such order as he deems just for the apportionment of such costs between and against such defendants.
Power of defendant to give certain evidence in mitigation of damages.
11. In any action for libel or slander, the defendant may give evidence in mitigation of damages that the plaintiff has recovered damages, or has brought actions for damages, for libel or slander in respect of the publication of words to the same effect as the words on which the action is founded, or has received or agreed to receive compensation in respect of any such publication.
Order of judge required for prosecution of newspaper proprietor, etc.
12.-(1) No criminal prosecution shall be commenced against any proprietor, publisher, editor or any person responsible for the publication of a newspaper for any libel published therein without the order of a judge in chambers being first had and obtained.
(2) The application for such order shall be made on notice to the person accused, who shall have an opportunity of being heard against such application.
Person proceeded against criminally a competent witness.
13. Any person charged with the offence of libel before any court of criminal jurisdiction, and the husband or wife of the person so charged, shall be a competent, but not compellable, witness on every hearing at every stage of such charge.
Damages for libel recoverable on bond
14.-(1) Where any plaintiff in any action for libel against any proprietor, editor, conductor, printer or publisher of any newspaper makes it appear, by affidavit to the Supreme Court, or to any judge thereof, that he is entitled to have execution against the defendant upon any judgment in such action, and that he has not been able to procure satisfaction by writ of execution against the goods and chattels or the lands of such defendant, the court or the judge may, for the benefit of such plaintiff, order and direct such proceedings to be had and taken upon such bond as would be taken to obtain any forfeitures, fines, penalties, damages or costs due to Her Majesty secured by such bond.
(2) The expense of such proceedings shall be borne exclusively by such plaintiff as aforesaid.
Discovery may be enforced.
15.-(1) Where any person files a petition in the Supreme Court for the discovery of the name of any person concerned as printer, publisher or proprietor of any newspaper or of any matter relative to the printing or publishing of any newspaper, in order more effectively to bring or carry on any suit or action for damages alleged to have been sustained by reason of any slanderous or libellous matter contained in any such newspaper respecting such person, it shall not be lawful for the defendant to plead or demur to such petition, but such defendant shall be compellable to make the discovery required.
(2) Any discovery made under this section shall not be made use of as evidence or otherwise in any proceeding against the defendant, except only in that proceeding for which the discovery is made.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinions and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Desacato laws are incompatible with Article 13 of the Convention
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that such laws were not compatible with the Convention because they lend themselves “to abuse, as a means to silence unpopular ideas and opinions, thereby repressing the debate that is critical to the effective functioning of democratic institutions.” The Commission further stated that desacato laws give a higher level of protection to public officials than is offered to private citizens. This is in direct contravention of the “fundamental principle in a democratic system that holds the government subject to controls, such as public scrutiny, in order to preclude or control abuse of its coercive powers.” Desacato laws cannot be justified by saying that their purpose is to protect “public order” (a permissible purpose for regulation of speech under Article 13), as this is in contravention of the principle that “a properly functioning democracy is indeed the greatest guarantee of public order.” In March 1994, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) held a hemispheric conference on freedom of the press at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. The Declaration of Chapultepec has been signed by the Heads of State of 21 of the region’s States including Belize and is widely regarded as a model standard for freedom of expression. On the matter of desacato laws, Principle 10 of the Declaration provides that, “No news medium nor journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticizing or denouncing the government.”
A free press means a free people.
Adopted by the Hemisphere
Conference on Free Speech
March 11, 1994
On the threshold of a new millennium, the Americas envision a future rooted in democracy. A political opening has taken hold. Citizens have a heightened awareness of their rights. More than at any time in our history regular elections, governments, parliaments, political parties, labor unions, associations and social groups of every kind reflect the hopes of our people.
In this environment of democratization, several developments engender optimism but also suggest prudence. Institutional crises, inequalities, backwardness, unresolvable frustrations, the search for easy solutions, failure to grasp the nature of democracy and special interest groups constantly threaten the advancements made. They also represent potential hurdles to further progress.
That is why we who share this hemisphere, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, must consolidate the prevailing public freedoms and human rights.
Democratic rule must be embodied in modern institutions that represent and respect the citizenry; it must also guide daily life. Democracy and freedom, inseparably paired, will flourish with strength and stability only if they take root in the men and women of our continent.
Without democracy and freedom, the results are predictable: Individual and social life is stunted, group interaction is curtailed, material progress is distorted, the possibility of change is halted, justice is demeaned and human advancement becomes mere fiction.
Freedom must not be restricted in the quest for any other goal. It stands alone, yet has multiple expressions; it belongs to citizens, not to government.
Because we share this conviction, because we have faith in the creative force of our people and because we are convinced that our principles and goals must be freedom and democracy, we openly support their most forthright and robust manifestation: Freedom of expression and of the press, whatever the medium of communication. The exercise of democracy can neither exist nor be reproduced without these.
We, the signatories of this declaration, represent different backgrounds and dreams. We take pride in the plurality and diversity of our cultures, considering ourselves fortunate that they merge into the one element that nurtures their growth and creativity: Freedom of expression, the driving force and basis of mankind’s fundamental rights.
A free society can thrive only through free expression and the exchange of ideas, the search for and the dissemination of information, the ability to investigate and question, to propound and react, to agree and disagree, to converse and confront, to publish and broadcast. Only by exercising these principles will it be possible to guarantee individuals and groups their right to receive impartial and timely information. Only through open discussion and unfettered information will it be possible to find answers to the great collective problems, to reach consensus, to have development benefit all sectors, to practice social justice and to advance the quest for equality. We therefore vehemently reject assertions which would define freedom and progress, freedom and order, freedom and stability, freedom and justice, freedom and the ability to govern as mutually exclusive values.
Without freedom there can be no true order, stability and justice. And without freedom of expression there can be no freedom. Freedom of expression and the seeking, dissemination and collection of information can be exercised only if freedom of the press exists.
We know that not every statement and item of information can find its way into the media. We know that the existence of press freedom does not automatically guarantee unrestricted freedom of expression. But we also know that a free press favors an environment that nurtures freedom of expression and thereby benefits all other public freedoms.
Without an independent media, assured of the guarantees to operate freely, to make decisions and to act on them fully, freedom of expression cannot be exercised. A free press is synonymous with free expression.
Wherever the media can function unhindered and determine their own direction and manner of serving the public, there is a blossoming of the ability to seek information, to disseminate it without restraints, to question it without fear and to promote the free exchange of ideas and opinions. But wherever freedom of the press is curtailed, for whatever reasons, the other freedoms vanish.
After a period when attempts were made to legitimize government control over news outlets, it is gratifying to be able to work together to defend freedom. Many men and women worldwide join us in this task. But opposition remains widespread. Our continents are no exception. There are still counties whose despotic governments abjure every freedom, particularly those freedoms related to expression. Criminals, terrorists and drug traffickers still threaten, attack and murder journalists.
But that is not the only way to harm a free press and free expression. The temptation to control and regulate has led to decisions that limit the independent action of the media, of journalists and of citizens who wish to seek and disseminate information and opinions.
Politicians who avow their faith in democracy are often intolerant of public criticism. Various social sectors assign to the press nonexistent flaws. Judges with limited vision order journalists to reveal sources that should remain in confidence. Overzealous officials deny citizens access to public information. Even the constitutions of some democratic countries contain elements of press restriction.
While defending a free press and rejecting outside interference, we also champion a press that is responsible and involved, a press aware of the obligations that the practice of freedom entails.
A free press enables societies to resolve their conflicts, promote their well-being and protect their liberty. No law or act of government may limit freedom of expression or of the press, whatever the medium.
Because we are fully conscious of this reality and accept it with the deepest conviction, and because of our firm commitment to freedom, we sign this declaration, whose principles follow
1. No people or society can be free without freedom of expression and of the press. The exercise of this freedom is not something authorities grant, it is an inalienable right of the people.
2. Every person has the right to seek and receive information, express opinions and disseminate them freely. No one may restrict or deny these rights.
3. The authorities must be compelled by law to make available in a timely and reasonable manner the information generated by the public sector. No journalist may be forced to reveal his or her sources of information.
4. Freedom of expression and of the press are severely limited by murder, terrorism, kidnapping, intimidation, the unjust imprisonment of journalists, the destruction of facilities, violence of any kind and impunity for perpetrators. Such acts must be investigated promptly and punished harshly.
5. Prior censorship, restrictions on the circulation of the media or dissemination of their reports, forced publication of information, the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of news, and restrictions on the activities and movements of journalists directly contradict freedom of the press.
6. The media and journalists should neither be discriminated against nor favored because of what they write or say.
7. Tariff and exchange policies, licenses for the importation of paper or news-gathering equipment, the assigning of radio and television frequencies and the granting or withdrawal of government advertising may not be used to reward or punish the media or individual journalists.
8. The membership of journalists in guilds, their affiliation to professional and trade associations and the affiliation of the media with business groups must be strictly voluntary.
9. The credibility of the press is linked to its commitment to truth, to the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and objectivity and to the clear distinction between news and advertising. The attainment of these goals and the respect for ethical and professional values may not be imposed. These are the exclusive responsibility of journalists and the media. In a free society, it is public opinion that rewards or punishes.
10. No news medium nor journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticizing or denouncing the government.
The struggle for freedom of expression and of the press is not a one-day task; it is an ongoing commitment. It is fundamental to the survival of democracy and civilization in our hemisphere. Not only is this freedom a bulwark and an antidote against every abuse of authority, it is society's lifeblood. Defending it day upon day is honoring our history and controlling our destiny. To these principles we are committed.
- Changes in Caribbean constitutions spur controversy (miamiherald.com)
- My Freedom of Speech (fiwebelize.com)
- Commentary: Why civil servants will always escape justice in Belize (caribbeannewsnow.com)