Time to review ‘bad word’ law, says Grange - But minister insists artistes don’t have to use profanity

July 31, 2023

Culture minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange says the time has come for a review of the 'bad word law', even as she urges entertainers to avoid using profanity on stage.

Under the Towns and Communities Act of 1843 , it is illegal for any person to use any profane, indecent or obscene language. A person convicted of this offence can be fined up to $1,500 or be imprisoned for up to 30 days.

"I think it's time to review those laws, but at the same time I think that we are creative enough that we don't have to go on stage and swear," Grange told THE STAR.

"And so I want to encourage the industry not to go there. It's absolutely unnecessary. We're not short of lyrics, so we don't have to use profanity."

Dancehall artiste Bayka was forced to cut short his performance at this year's staging of Reggae Sumfest after he used profanity on stage. The entertainer, whose given name is Ronaldo Billings, was charged under the 179 year-old law.

St James police commander Senior Superintendent of Police Vernon Ellis later said, "If you are coming to Sumfest to break the law you must come prepared to face the consequences."

"So if you come to Sumfest to curse bad words bring your toothbrush and all the other necessaries because you are going to spend some time in jail," Ellis said.

Grange, speaking with THE STAR, noted that some persons have argued that it is "a matter of opinion what is profane and what is a bad word".

She, however, argued that until and unless the law is changed, entertainers have a duty to deliver exciting and clean content to the audience.

"If you want to be recognised as a good artiste, as a good songwriter, as a good performer, you have to, as we would say, temper di ting, and recognise that your audience is who you must please, not your own ego and not your own desire to use curse words on the stage. So I would encourage them not to do it, although I recognise that some of the laws that are on our books need to be reviewed," Grange said.

Critics of the current law have called for it to be updated or repealed. Attorney-at-law Kimberley Brown, while staying neutral on the present day applicability of the law, said a venue exemption clause could be considered

"It may be appropriate, though, to consider if a venue which is accessible by the public, but occupied exclusively by adults who consent to hearing obscenity, should be an exception to the prohibition against bad words in public places," said Brown, an associate at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon.

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