The Debate to Restrict Internet , Text Content in Jamaica-Where will it lead?

The Jamaican parliament is now debating how to regulate internet content on what people maybe allowed to say based on some individuals judgment on what might be considered “defamatory”. This might seem simple enough; it might even seem well intended but the signs are troubling.

I think we are being slowly regulated into a box were there is no freedom of expression. The pattern here, first they will restrict the media meaning (radio and television) on what is “decent” many people supported that for obvious reasons, next in the crosshairs internet content and text messages, up text messages.

There is a very interesting article in the Jamaica Gleaner today about the vibrant debate regarding telecommunication content regulation. Service providers have rejected the suggestion by government that they should monitor and or suspend users’ accounts that disseminate “defamatory” content. Without alarming anyone this is just the discussion phase but clearly a road that can and might lead to restrictions. The mechanics will come later.

I beckon the same question that the telecommunication providers ask, what is considered defamatory and who would make that judgment call.  Aren’t the existing civil laws over defamation adequate? If the existing laws do not include internet content by specificity then wouldn’t a simple amendment be required to bring it up to age?

If the telecommunication providers have to extend additional resources be it computer software or human resources to monitor users this will undoubtedly affect the cost of providing the service. The vast amount of content online is overwhelming.

A couple months ago the Broadcasting Commission shook the media landscape with bans on content on radio and television. It would be disingenuous to say their action was not necessary. While many individual who opined in the vibrate debate strongly supported the BC decision, we must put things into context and also refrain from being short sighted, there must be balance.

Many in the dancehall fraternity say the restrictions by the Broadcasting Commission as an assault on dancehall itself. In fact many in the fraternity had to point out that other genre such as calypso (considered uptown music), R&B and hip Hop (foreign music normally given a pass) were just as indecent as Dancehall music. The obvious class lines were drawn here.

Others saw it as a necessary step to reign what was a lack of public decency on the air. Many fans of dancehall supported the move other opposed. Some Jamaicans see no value whatsoever in dancehall culture. They might have been the most ardent supporters of the BC decision.

The problems or the implication of being short sighted or not putting things into context is missing the opportunity to ask what might they regulate, ban, and control next. What might be considered “indecent” or “defamatory”.

A friend of mine who loves to read romance novels supported wholeheartedly the ban by the BC. I asked her how she would feel if the government suddenly decided that the racy illustration that grace the covers of the books she loves so much, not to mention the graphic sexual description which equates to soft porn was targeted by the government and regulated or restricted. Oddly enough a couple months later the government imposed tax on “non-education” books which was reversed after much screaming.

There is a Jamaican proverb for what is happening here. Can anyone tell me? Read the entire report  Jamaica Gleaner story.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not protest;
I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me


~ by RB on June 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “The Debate to Restrict Internet , Text Content in Jamaica-Where will it lead?”

  1. I’ve been following the debate too… and I have one main question:

    Charge telecommunication service providers for the spread of defamatory content?? How exactly do they expect TcCPs to monitor/control what info their users send to each other? By monitoring the contents of users’ (supposedly private) texts, emails, calls, etc? It doesn’t make sense.

  2. Ruthibelle- The practicality of such a task is daunting to say the least. It is possible to some extent. If the government charge the telecommunication companies with this task it might be so monumental that the cost to communicate will raise

    There are other concerns such as freedom of expression. Who will make the judgment call on what is “defamatory”, or the bigger question what is considered defamatory. This is very subjective and open to many different interpretations.

    There are also privacy issues. Who will be monitoring and gathering your text messages, emails etc. What will happen to all that info.

    I am surprise by the lack of true challenge to answer theses question by all MPs. Most ordinary Jamaican would not even challenge the government in the judicial system regarding legislation the will trump on our fundamental rights

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