Concern Over Extend of Criminal Libel and Slander

Photo: Revision Legal

Once assented to by the President of the Republic and published in the Official Gazette, any individual that makes a false statement against an individual and publishing a false statement that damages the reputation of another person on a public platform is liable to face criminal charges.

Anyone found guilty of committing these offences faces a maximum of 3 years imprisonment.

These are amendments to the Penal Code [CAP 135] that were approved under the Bill of the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No. of 2021.

A total of 18 legislations were amended under this Statute Law Bill and one of them was the Penal Code Act on the provisions of criminal libel and slander.

Under the changes to the Penal Code after section 114, individuals are prohibited from using threatening language against others in written, spoken, automated words or gestures.

The change also spells out criminal libel (published statement that is false) under Section 120 of the Act and criminal slander (false spoken statement), which is Section 121.

An issue raised by Member of Parliament for Luganville, Matai Seremaiah, during debate of the Bill tabled and on item 8 under the Miscellaneous provisions, specifically on the issue of slander whether it is the person slandering that is liable or the person on the side taking a video and posting it on Facebook pages with large followings.

MP Seremaiah says at this time of campaigns for provincial elections, politicians would be on the receiving end of this amendment’s provision of criminal proceedings.

Prime Minister Bob Loughman, agreed that the amendment is a difficult one as it would also affect chiefs holding meetings at their respective nakamals.

The PM said the amendment would assist the Judiciary to carry out its duty.

“The overall aim for this is to try to reduce how social platforms are being used to talk against another person, spoil a person’s name and their businesses.

“I agree that if we find this difficult for us, i am prepared to get this back (to parliament) to make one that is more easy for us.

“I suggest that we allow it (amendment) to go and see how we manage it and comply with it,” the PM said.

Former Minister of Internal Affairs, Andrew Napuat, has expressed in Parliament about how he faced the challenge of being severely criticized on Facebook as a State minister.

He has since left Facebook since 2017 and no longer uses it, but still contacts his voters through text messages and WhatsApp.

MP Napuat says the amendment is good, but it does not solve the issue of fake IDs on social media. He said the amendment may cause many to turn to fake IDs.

Napuat also suggested for administrators of Facebook forums to be penalised for approving any slander or libel from fake Facebook IDs.

The amendment has not specified if the newspapers, television stations, and radio stations would be liable but Minister of Agriculture, Willie Daniel, who is a lawyer by profession, explains that once a video is posted online, the person that posted it and the person slandering would be affected.

At this stage this amendment makes an individual responsible for their actions, which would also put journalists as individuals on the firing line.

There is also no provision on where the three years imprisonment stands if there is rectification of items published or aired on mainstream media and if apologies would have any bearing once the law is implemented.

Media Association of Vanuatu (MAV) President, Stevenson Liu, says anything to do with communication and freedom of expression that affects how media in Vanuatu operates, would be a concern for MAV.

He says he hopes this change would not restrict freedom of information and freedom of expression in general.

Mr Liu says traditional media that normally work under the guide of ethics, should be concerned about the amendments.

Meanwhile a proposed cybercrime law is yet to be passed by Parliament, despite numerous consultations.

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