MIAMI, USA (IAPA) -- The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) on Wednesday called on the authorities in Barbados to drop criminal charges against two executives and a journalist of the Nation newspaper for alleged violation of the protection of minors law.
A preliminary court hearing was held on Tuesday against the newspaper’s editor, Vivian-Anne Gittens, editor-in-chief Roy Morris and reporter Sanka Price. The three have been accused of violating the Protection of Children Act. The case was postponed at the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to July 21 this year.
The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, declared that “the charges should be withdrawn, taking into account the negative consequences against press freedom that this accusation carries.”
The accused were detained for several hours on November 14 last year and face the possibility of being sentenced to five years in prison. The accusation has its origin in an October 26, 2013 publication of a Facebook photograph taken from a video of two underage students who appeared to be engaging in sexual activity in a classroom.
In the photo the two boys appeared fully dressed and could not be recognized because their faces were explicitly blurred. The note that accompanied the photo reported that other students disseminated the video of the incident online.
Paolillo stressed the newspaper’s right to publish such information, on the understanding that “the exposure of absence of controls in a school on the part of its authorities is news of great public interest for society.”
He recalled that the Declaration of Chapultepec – an IAPA document of guiding principles regarding press freedom – establishes that “no news medium nor journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticizing or denouncing the government.” In addition, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights determines that “privacy laws should not inhibit or restrict investigation and dissemination of information of public interest.”
“The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official, a public person or a private person who has voluntarily become involved in matters of public interest. In addition, in these cases, it must be proven that in disseminating the news the social communicator had the specific intent to inflict harm, was fully aware that false news was disseminated, or acted with gross negligence in efforts to determine the truth or falsity of such news, “the Declaration adds.
Paolillo said that “it is clear that in this case the newspaper wished to expose an incorrect functioning of a center of learning and that its journalistic purpose was not to disseminate images for the mere fact of showing two minors in an inappropriate situation. The paper acted appropriately, not publishing the identity of those involved (even though this had been published on the Internet by their friends) and warning the school’s authorities, the government and the parents about the event.”
“It is complete nonsense that the three journalists are now with a sword of Damocles over their heads and with the possibility of going to jail for five years for doing their job. The denunciation itself is already an attack on press freedom and the possibility of imprisonment amounts to an enormous pressure on these three journalists, but also on the other colleagues, which could lead to self-censorship out of fear and, if that comes about it would place Barbados in a truly negative position regarding the unfettered practice of journalism and of freedom of expression,” Paolillo warned.
The IAPA, which is to hold its midyear meeting in Barbados April 4-7, will take up this case during its evaluation of the state of press freedom in the Americas.
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defence and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida.