Dominican Republic government signals intent to abolish criminal defamation
IPI's second mission to the Caribbean country combined advocacy and ethics training
By: Scott Griffen, Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean
VIENNA, April 29, 2013 - Government officials in the Dominican Republic have agreed on the need to remove criminal penalties for defamation from the national press law, the International Press Institute (IPI) reported following its second visit to the country in the last 12 months.
"We are pleased that there is consensus to modernise Law No. 6132, which regulates the Dominican press, in order to satisfy international standards, including the decriminalisation of defamation and insult," IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said. "The Dominican Republic government has recognised that criminal defamation laws do not belong in a modern democracy, and we hope that their leadership on this issue will encourage other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America to make and follow through on similar commitments."
During its five-day, four-city visit, IPI presented a joint session of the justice and media committees of the Dominican Republic Chamber of Deputies with a legal analysis of the country’s press law, Law No. 6132, containing specific recommendations on adapting the statute to international best practices, including the decriminalisation of libel. The analysis was prepared by Dr. Anthony Fargo, director of the Center for Media Law and Policy Studies at Indiana University (United States).
The president of the justice commission, Demóstenes Martínez Hernández, told the IPI delegation that the chamber viewed the revision of Law No. 6132 as obligatory to comply with rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on freedom of expression.
Attorney General Francisco Domínguez Brito added in a separate meeting: "We are very enthusiastic, and I believe that you will have good news soon."
During a meeting in the northeastern city of Nagua, Senator Arístides Victoria Yeb announced to IPI and representatives of the Association of Dominican Journalists, "We have decided to decriminalise defamation. All those who feel wounded by the media will be able to go to civil court, but not criminal."
As part of its visit, IPI held a series of workshops for journalists and journalism students in three cities – Santiago de los Caballeros, San Francisco de Macorís, and Nagua – on ethical reporting, led by Dr. María-Mercedes Vigón, associate director of the International Media Center at Florida International University (FIU). The workshops were made possible with a generous grant from the United States Embassy in the Dominican Republic.
"IPI has long recognised that legal reforms, particularly the abolition of criminal libel, need to be accompanied by commensurate efforts in raising standards of journalism, to address the concerns of citizens about the media's power," explained Mills. "These efforts should involve reporters, editors, and publishers alike, and we look forward to a long-term partnership with the Association of Dominican Journalists to that end."
IPI was represented in the Dominican Republic by Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie; IPI North American Committee Chair John Yearwood, The Miami Herald's world editor; and Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean Scott Griffen. The IPI delegation was joined by Aurelio Henríquez, president of the Association of Dominican Journalists (Colegio dominicano de periodistas, CDP).
In addition to the Dominican Republic, IPI also visited Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Curaçao, where she delivered the keynote address at the regional UNESCO-led observance of World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd.
Should the Dominican Republic government follow through on its commitments regarding criminal defamation, it would become part of a growing trend in the Caribbean. Last year, following the start of an IPI campaign, Grenada became the first Caribbean country to decriminalise libel. Since that time, Jamaica has tabled a bill in parliament to do the same, and similar bills are expected to be brought forth in Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda.