By Larisa Manescu
The Grenada Parliament has passed a law to sanction offensive online content, which could punish defamation through the Internet with up to one year in prison, the International Press Institute (IPI) informed.
The legislation is a part of the Electronic Crimes Act of 2013, which defines and establishes sanctions for a total of 16 offenses, including laws regarding child pornography, online stalking, identity theft, violation of privacy and electronic terrorism.
The law also aims to tackle defamation of individuals on the Internet by punishing information that is “grossly offensive” or that is known to be false but is spread to cause “annoyance…insult, injury…ill will.” It would include communications through email, posts on social media and comments on online articles, and offenders may pay a fine of up to EC$100,000 (or US$37,037) or spend up to a year in prison.
The law is not in effect yet because it is waiting to be approved by Governor-General Cecile la Grenade, and an enforcement date has not yet been established, NOW Grenada reported.
The House of Representatives originally passed the bill earlier this year, but it was subsequently withdrawn to the Lower House in early July after the government realized there was such negative publicity surrounding it, including disapproval and pressure from organizations like IPI.
The main concern revolves around the ambiguity of what is considered “offensive content” -- and the fact that such content is still prohibited even if it represents the truth.
“The citizens of any democracy have a fundamental right to debate – robustly, forcefully, even tastelessly – the public figures and policies that affect their lives,” said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. “Any attempt to shut down this debate, or to regulate it through vague, subjective terminology, should be met with the utmost skepticism and suspicion.”
The law doesn’t only affect persons living and working within the nation, but also “any person, of any nationality or citizenship or in any place outside or inside Grenada, having an effect on the security of Grenada or its nationals.” Additionally, the law applies to any electronic system or data that is capable of being connected to ones in Grenada.
Sen. Christopher DeAllie, a representative of the business community, justified the law using an anecdotal example of a businessman in Grenada who was publicly slandered on the Internet by individuals with political motives and had to put in the time and money to clear his name. DeAllie said that he hopes the provisions of the bill will prevent such future instances.
“We all understand the power of the Internet, and when something wrong goes viral, the damage is done and it’s not easy to repair one’s image when it’s damaged, and that applies to both individuals and corporate bodies,” said DeAllie.
Although it has sparked such controversy, the debate falters within the nation's legislative bodies because Grenada’s Parliament is made up of majority New National Party, the current ruling party. In the February elections this year, the NNP won all 15 seats in the House of Representatives.
Randall Robinson, a former candidate for the National Democratic Congress, the opposition party in Grenada, said in July that government interference in issues of defamation is unnecessary, NOW Grenada reported.
“We already have a remedy in the civil courts that adequately compensates offended parties where they sue and win,” Robinson said.
Instead of the government making it a criminal offense, it is commonplace for a private party to decide on its own to sue for libel if it feels like its reputation has been unfairly attacked online.
Similar legislation is brewing in Ecuador. The National Assembly Justice Commission recently listened to a proposal by secretary of state Alexis Mera to penalize individuals expressing derogatory remarks on social media, a medium many of the nation’s journalists use to spread information and facilitate discussion.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.