'A victory for press freedom' - Attorneys praise ruling overturning injunction against airing of Holness exposé
"We won. What else is there to say? We won," declared attorney-at-law Hugh Small, following yesterday's favourable outcome in the ongoing battle between Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Television Jamaica (TVJ) and the syndicated news programme 18 Degrees North.
The courts lifted the injunction that had barred TVJ from rebroadcasting an episode of 18 Degrees North's exposÈ on Holness, which made certain assertions about his Beverly Hills, St Andrew, house, and payment of property taxes, among other issues.
Presented by host and Executive Producer Zahra Burton, the 18 Degrees North news feature was first aired on Monday, May 30, and was scheduled to be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 5.
However, Holness retained a lawyer and issued a press release refuting allegations made in the programme, produced by Global Reporters For The Caribbean. His legal team argued that rebroadcasting the programme would cause the prime minister more harm than a postponement of the programme would cause TVJ.
On Friday, June 3, Justice Chester Stamp, in the Supreme Court, granted an injunction, barring TVJ from rebroadcasting the approximately half-hour feature.
Holness also brought a lawsuit against the parties, claiming the feature was defamatory.
Stamp was also responsible for discharging the order.
Attorney-at-law Kevin Powell, representing TVJ, said the ruling was important for the protection of the rights of freedom of the press, the right of the press to present information that was in the interest of the public, and the public's right to that information, especially as it relates to public officials.
"TVJ is pleased about the ruling. One of the issues for them was the freedom of the press, and they felt that the injunction certainly was something that might have been considered as restricting that freedom of the press," Powell told The Gleaner.
"The judge agreed with the submissions of the defendant that in defamation proceedings, an injunction (before trial) should only be granted if the defendant had no substantive defence to the claim. He felt that based on the material before him, that has been provided by the defendant, and after viewing the programme itself, the defences in regards to responsible journalism and on a matter of public interest would have to be decided at trial and, therefore, there was no basis to continue the injunction."
Small, who represented 18 Degrees North, an investigative news programme broadcast in 27 countries, said the judge presented a lengthy judgment, making several orders. Among them, "He made an order discharging the exemption; he made an order dismissing the prime minister's application for the injunction to remain in place until the trial; he made an order for the prime minister to pay the cost of the fees of the defendants TVJ, Zahra Burton, and Global Reporters For The Caribbean."
Small continued: "He also made an order that any losses which the defendants incurred as a result of the granting of the injunction would be heard along with the trial of the case when the trial takes place. And the final order was that Mr Gordon Robinson, the lawyer for the prime minister, asked for permission to appeal and the permission was granted."
Small explained that the argument presented for the defendant was that a court does not normally grant an injunction in a defamation case before a trial because that pre-empted the role of the jury to decide whether or not there had been a defamation and would only grant an injunction in circumstances where it was clear there was no defence, "and we had several defences."
Powell said TVJ has yet to make a decision on whether they will rebroadcast the episode. The ruling gives the station the right to rebroadcast if it so chooses.
"I never comment on my matters while they're still before the court," Robinson told The Gleaner.
However, they have 42 days in which to file an appeal.
The parties involved are now preparing for the next stage, which is the trial to determine if Holness was defamed by the expose.
"We have already entered our defences. The next phase will be for mediation and then case management, and I expect, given the normal course of events, we should be looking at a trial probably in about two years," Small said.