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Int'l press freedom group concerned over Data Protection Act

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Press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has written to Dr Andrew Wheatley, the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament currently examining the Data Protection Bill, to express concerns about the chilling effect which the proposed legislation could have on journalism.

RSF, which produces the annual World Press Freedom Index, is suggesting that the Parliament amend the Bill to include a blanket exemption for journalists.

The group's suggestion echoes similar proposals made by the Press Association of Jamaica and the Media Association of Jamaica.

RSF says it does not believe that the Bill makes a sufficient distinction between gathering "data" for journalistic activities and gathering data for regular commercial purposes and says the Bill's negative impact on journalism could outweigh the advantages the legislation is supposed to provide.

The organisation says it acknowledges the existing exemptions for journalism in the Bill as drafted, RSF Executive Director for North American Margaux Ewen says a clear blanket exemption for journalists should be provided instead of a handful of provisions.

RSF notes that without a blanket exemption, the proposed legislation is potentially threatening for journalists and media outlets.

"It says it aims to protect "sensitive personal data," including "political opinions, philosophical beliefs, religious beliefs or other beliefs of a similar nature," all of which are examples of subjects journalists focus their reporting on. How can journalists report on matters of public interest and hold those in power accountable under such a law?" asks Ewan.

Specific provisions of the Bill about which RSF is raising concern include the power given to the Information Commissioner to enforce, exempt, and penalise data controllers, which would include journalists.

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