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IPI endorses Press Association of Jamaica letter to prime minister

(IPI/IFEX) - Kingston, Jamaica, 13 December 2011 - The International Press Institute (IPI) has endorsed a letter to Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness from the Press Association (PAJ) of Jamaica calling on his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to exercise restraint in its criticism of media workers covering the country's 29 December elections.

PAJ President Jenni Campbell sent the letter to Holness in response to what she characterised as negative comments and veiled threats made against media workers at public JLP meetings that put the workers' safety at risk.

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "We are concerned about any intimidation of journalists, particularly during an election. Journalists play a vital role in ensuring that members of the public are adequately informed before they cast their ballots. We urge all political parties to act in a responsible manner and to avoid any sort of rhetoric or actions that could lead to violence against journalists or any other infringement of the public's right to know."

Prime Minister Holness on Wednesday responded to the letter by saying on Wednesday that his Government supports democracy and freedom of speech, the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper reported.
Speaking during the Private Sector Association of Jamaica (PSOJ) Christmas lunch at the Wyndham hotel in New Kingston, he asserted that the Government was not against the work of the media, but only sought balance and fairness.

"I am noticing that there is a little bit of agitation in the press," the Gleaner quoted him as saying. "And I want to say here publicly that this Government believes in freedom of the press, safety of the press. We also believe in transparency, and we believe in balance in reporting."

IPI endorsed the letter during a three-day visit to Jamaica by IPI Executive Director Bethel McKenzie and IPI Press Freedom Adviser Steven M. Ellis during which they met with representatives of media, civil society groups and government.

The pair were in Kingston to draw attention to IPI's upcoming Annual World Congress, which will be held from 23-26 June in Trinidad & Tobago; to urge the government to respect the rights of media workers covering the upcoming elections; and to lobby in support of a bill before Parliament that would reform defamation law in Jamaica. Among other effects, the bill would decriminalise defamation. IPI is pushing for passage of the bill as part of a campaign to end criminal defamation across the Caribbean.

The text of the letter follows:

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) takes note of the negative public utterances from your political platform against journalists and the veiled threats against media workers by your supporters at public meetings. The PAJ is aware of instances in the not too distant past where platform comments have resulted in attacks on journalists.

While we respect the right of every individual to criticise the media, the vitriol that has come from the Jamaica Labour Party platform in Portland and Manchester is unacceptable and has put media workers at risk as they perform a legitimate and necessary function of providing the public with information.
We wish to state clearly that should this pattern continue or if a single journalist is attacked the PAJ will swiftly seek the assistance of its regional and international partners including the International Press Institute, the International Federation of Journalists, the Inter-American Press Association and the Association of Caribbean Media Workers to ensure that your administration is reminded of Jamaica's enviable record of press freedom and the sanctions which can be brought against a government which threatens the safety of media workers.

In the interest of openness and transparency the PAJ will be making this letter public.

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