18 Degrees North receives legal threat

A day after receiving a letter from Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ lawyer, journalist and 18 Degrees North founder Zahra Burton says she is thoughtful. She is planning her next move in general and in response to a legal threat from the Prime Minister.

She paraphrases the letter, saying that the lawyer is asking for an apology. If one is not forthcoming, legal action could be taken.

“It’s a logical reaction on his end to do that,” she says. “I don’t think you ever expect it, but you plan for it.”

The 18 Degrees North episode in question aired Monday on TVJ. It investigated Holness’ property holdings and his payment of property taxes. The piece was watched and vetted by both Burton’s and TVJ’s lawyers. Some minor tweaks were made prior to airing and some things were clarified.

“I feel a little bit thoughtful. It’s like you feel like ok, what this all going to lead to. My biggest concern is the rest of the season…I’m concerned about editorial content and being able to finish up stories we are working on. I’m concerned about financial fall-out for my company.”

Burton adds that she is not politically motivated in any way, shape or form. “I am steadfast in my commitment to investigative journalism.”

She also clarifies that she has not received any death threats. “Just legal,” she says, adding that the social media hubbub is taking up a lot of time.

18DN is an independent, investigative journalism outfit founded by former Miss Jamaica and Bloomberg news reporter Zahra Burton. Full disclosure: I am a freelance reporter who works with Burton in several capacities, but not on this story in question. I can attest to Burton’s fierce independence, determination and non-partisanship. She is simply a journalist truly committed to doing good work in a country troubled by corruption.

Despite financial challenges and a difficult environment, Burton has produced two seasons and won two awards already. It would be a loss to the nation if she were silenced. Although I don’t think that is a possibility as Jamaica ranks high in press freedom, as I have written about here.

Zahra has asked me to add this: “There is nothing to apologize for. We stand by our story.”


7 thoughts on “18 Degrees North receives legal threat

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  4. Interesting case on many levels, not least integrity of jorunalism, and if any sensitive issue will lead to the call for the lawyers–where are we with the simlar calls that happened during the elections? Scare tactics? That said, the story could have been developed in many different ways, eg, why choose the ‘election trail’ as where you lay your trap? People will wonder why the story laid so long (processes aside) through the election and 3 months after. Anyway, will watch this space, and also see what AH says in his various interviews that took place on his #MediaDay yesterday.

    • Good questions. I wish we had more time to get into the development of the story. Future blog post possibly. I can say with certainty though that investigative journalism is painfully slow. Stories take months of incremental work and heart-breaking setbacks.

      • I know that, and 18DN could have helped itself by putting its work in context; most people think it’s just a few hours running around with a camera, and don’t understand the background work, eg checking, rechecking, etc. The tone was also a bit off, condemning without being clear that there was really anything to condemn 🙂

      • Unfortunately that is also the nature of investigative journalism when there is sometimes no clear “smoking gun”. And the majority of the audience is not as critical (I mean that in the best sense) as you 🙂

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