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Authorities should drop indecency charges against Barbados journalists

The International Press Institute (IPI) today again urged authorities in Barbados to drop criminal indecency charges against three journalists.

Vivian-Anne Gittens, publisher of the Nation newspaper, as well as Nation Editor-in-Chief Roy Morris and senior journalist Sanka Price, face up to five years in prison in connection with the newspaper's publication in its Oct. 26 edition of a photograph that appeared to show two minors engaging in a sexual act in a classroom at a rural Barbados school.

Gittens, Morris and Price were scheduled to appear in court today at a preliminary hearing on the charge that they allegedly violated Barbados' Protection of Children Act, Chapter 146A. The journalists face up to five years in prison if convicted.

UPDATE: Local sources reported that the court adjourned the hearing to July 21, 2014.

The photograph – in which both minors were fully dressed and their faces were blurred out – accompanied an article noting that the incident depicted occurred in the presence of other minors and that students had circulated a video of the incident online.

“The drafters of the Protection of Children Act specifically contemplated instances in which the publication of images that might otherwise violate the Act should not lead to criminal liability,” IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said. “Those exceptions include cases where there was a 'legitimate reason for distributing or showing' such material.

“Here, it is clear that the Nation believed that a news story with great impact on the community – a perceived failure by school administrators to adequately supervise students in their charge, and the resulting consequences – was in need of being told.

“Opinions may certainly differ widely on the tastefulness and propriety of printing this photo. But the decision to do so does not merit prison time. We urge authorities to end the criminal proceedings against these journalists.”

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