Attacks on the Press 2001: Jamaica

Jamaica enjoys considerable press freedom. Despite gang warfare across the island nation, the media have not had problems covering controversial stories. “The media freely report on crime and violence in Jamaica, with these reports gaining prominence in the press and broadcast media,” noted Donna Ortega, president of the Press Association of Jamaica.

However, journalists still have limited access to government information. “We in the media feel there’s a culture of secrecy,” said Ken Allen, opinion page editor of the daily newspaper The Gleaner. “The government keeps things close to their chest,” he added.

Currently, access to information is governed by the 1911 Official Secrets Act. New legislation presented in the House of Representatives on December 4 would restrict access to government documents when disclosure could have an adverse effect on the ability of the government to manage the economy or would compromise national security. Parliament is currently examining the bill, according to Ortega.

Meanwhile, the Gleaner Company Limited continued to appeal a libel verdict stemming from a 1987 Associated Press story published in the company’s daily, The Gleaner, and its afternoon tabloid, The Star, alleging that former tourism minister Eric Anthony Abrahams had accepted bribes. After the Court of Appeals reduced the judgment from 80.7 million Jamaican dollars (US$1.7 million) to 35 million Jamaican dollars (US$750,000) in 2000, the company appealed to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, where the case was still pending at press time. (Jamaica is an independent country within the British Commonwealth, with the British monarch as titular head of state.)