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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Jamaica

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Jamaica, February 1997, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A damaging libel verdict by a Jamaican jury against the island's leading newspaper has jolted the press and dampened the general atmosphere of press freedom in Jamaica.

A jury in July ordered the Gleaner Company Ltd., owners of the island's oldest newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, to pay an unprecedented US$2.5 million in damages for libel to Eric Anthony Abrahams, a former minister of tourism.

The case stems from an article originally published in 1987 by the Associated Press news agency that was picked up by the Daily Gleaner and its afternoon tabloid, The Star. The report contained allegations that Abrahams had accepted bribes from a U.S. advertising firm in return for the island's advertising and public-relations contract.

Calling the award "manifestly excessive," the 162-year-old Gleaner Company is appealing the decision to the Jamaica Court of Appeals, which could hear the case early in 1997. In the meantime, the award amount and attorneys fees remain in escrow.

The decision of the seven-member jury has had a chilling effect on the entire Jamaican media. Observers predict that the case will deter journalists from aggressive reporting for fear that a libel suit could result in ruinous damages." This is a time of mourning for us in the media," Desmond Allen, editor of the Jamaica Observer told the Inter Press Service.

The verdict has sparked debate among journalists, media owners and policy-makers over the adjudication of libel cases and whether there should be a cap on the amount of monetary damage awards. There is discussion of placing libel cases under the jurisdiction of a judge instead of a jury.

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