AN executive member of the Media Association (MATT) says there should be exemptions for journalists under the Cyber Crime Bill, as the bill in its current form has the potential to criminalise permanently employed journalists working in the interest of the public. Joel Julien, MATT’s vice-president, said yesterday the issue of how a journalist receives and disseminates information to the public was not “black and white.”
“The harsh reality, as the chairman (Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi), said, I don’t think anybody wants to promote hacking,” he said, citing a hypothetical situation in which somebody hacked “information that needs to be released,” and then passes it on to a journalist who is is not a hacker.”
He was addressing a sitting of a Joint Select Committee (JSC) which examined the controversial legislation.
Julien, deputy head of news, investigations at Guardian Media, was responding to a question from JSC member Melissa Ramkissoon, who wanted to know MATT’s position on Clause 18 of the legislation, which deals with penalties for journalists found guilty of an offence.
Clause 18, according to the explanatory note on the bill, seeks to create the offence of causing harm to a person through communication via a computer system.
The offence would carry a fine of $100,000 and three years’ imprisonment on summary conviction or a fine of $250,000 and five years’ imprisonment on conviction on indictment. Using the recent threat to Carnival celebrations,as an example, Julien told the sitting: “National Security was on the situation, they were informing the public of what is going on.
“Let’s say somebody receives pertinent information and reveals to the media that there is supposed to be a bomb detonating at 12 pm at the Queen’s Park Savannah. What should we do? How should we handle that situation? Where is the public’s right to know?” Julien said MATT had no intention to “put up a block” against the legislation.
“The reality is that there is a right to privacy.
“We admit that because at the end of the day we are private citizens. However, there is also the balancing act of the public’s right to know, and as I continually say, this is not a black-and-white situation. Everything has to be taken with merit. We just don’t want it to be a situation where a journalist, bringing out the information that they believe is the public’s right to know, is penalised.”
In response, Ramkissoon said members were concerned about abuse, particularly from those who consider themselves “citizen journalists.”
“We have to try to protect the public’s interest as well, because people are suffering from cybercrimes,” she said. “I don’t want to be here on this position and know someone has suffered a fatality because we were very slack on bringing legislation to the Parliament. We don’t want to have an unclear stance on where we are and where we are going.”