Prime Minister Andrew Holness has sought to clarify that any move to introduce legislation to tackle “hate speech” in the future would be specifically aimed at curtailing the use of violent language in Jamaica.
Since Holness declared last week that his Government was mulling legislation to address hate speech locally, several religious groups and their respective leaders, as well as civil society groups, have been calling on the prime minister to provide more clarity on his remarks.
The groups argued, among other things, that such laws could prevent them from speaking on moral issues affecting the society, and abridge their rights to freedom of speech.
Speaking at Thursday’s meeting of the Citizen Security Business Group held at Jamaica House, Holness said such a law would not be used in Jamaica in the way other jurisdictions have implemented it.
Hate speech is often referred to as public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on their race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.
“The world in which we live in gives far more opportunities for the promotion of violent speech, so really what I am targeting and what I would want us to talk about is not necessarily hate speech as the Europeans may have used it in their jurisdiction…,” he explained.
“We tend to drag ourselves into other people’s issues; focus on what is the issue here in Jamaica, and that is the use of violent speech,” Holness urged those who reacted negatively to his proposal.
The prime minister said he simply “threw out something into the atmosphere”, which he said was simply a “thought”.
He added that “One would have thought that the immediate understanding would be this (hate speech legislation) is necessary for the levels of violence in society, but that’s not what has captured the concern of some people.”
This, he said, was another example of violence being accepted or normalised in such a way that other issues supersede it in the society.
“I find that to be sad,” declared Holness.
Meanwhile, Holness said legislation alone may not be used to tackle the use of violent language in the society.
“It may not necessarily be legislation, but it may be a concerted programme of public education to educate, particularly, our parents about how they speak to their children, because I cannot understand… why some parents would want to use such… violent terms to their children,” he pointed out.
Using such terms to children could be tantamount to teaching them to normalise violence, Holness suggested.