Ex-editor denies agenda against O'Brien

Thu, Feb 14, 2013, 00:00

The former editor-in-chief of the Irish Daily Mail has said the paper did not have an agenda against businessman Denis O’Brien.

Paul Field said he wrote the article’s headline: “Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti”.

It was his decision alone to publish it.

“We did not have an agenda against O’Brien,” he said.

He was giving evidence on the sixth day of Mr O’Brien’s legal action against Associated Newspapers, Mr Field, group editor Paul Dacre and journalist Paul Drury.

The businessman has alleged that the article, published in the Irish Daily Mail on January 22nd, 2010, shortly after a massive earthquake in Haiti, was defamatory and accused him of being a hypocrite over his efforts to assist in the relief of Haiti where his telecommunications company Digicel has substantial interests.

The article was written after Mr O’Brien appeared on RTÉ news in a report from Haiti by journalist Charlie Bird.

Under cross-examination from James O’Callaghan SC, one of Mr O’Brien’s counsel, Mr Field, now associate editor with the Mail’s newspaper group, defended his record as editor of American tabloid the National Enquirer between 2005 and the end of 2007.

Mr O’Callaghan said it was a “scandal sheet” and had published photos of Elvis Presley in his coffin and stories with headlines including “Mum Boiled Her Baby and Ate Her”.

“They did not publish those stories while I was there,” Mr Field said.

He agreed that he may have told an Observer reporter that they would use a line on a story others wouldn’t “nick” because it was “too scurrilous”. However he denied the article about Mr O’Brien had been scurrilous.

Also being cross-examined yesterday, Mr Drury said Mr O’Brien was entitled to a right of reply after the article appeared, but he was not entitled to an apology.

“There was nothing to apologise for,” he said.

Paul O’Higgins SC, for Mr O’Brien, took Mr Drury through the article and asked him whether what he said was fact, opinion or untrue.

The article had asked “who’s that chunky figure in the polo shirt who keeps popping up” with Charlie Bird on television?

“Was that fact or opinion?” Mr O’Higgins asked.

“A little bit of both,” Mr Drury responded.

Mr O’Higgins said Mr Drury “didn’t even try to find out” about the facts of Mr O’Brien’s interactions with Mr Bird before he wrote the opinion piece.

“You felt exempt from finding out the facts,” Mr O’Higgins said.

Mr Drury said he was not a reporter, he was writing an opinion article.

When Eamon Dunphy or Johnny Giles commented on a football match they would not phone Giovanni Trapattoni before giving their opinions and he had not phoned Mr Bird or Mr O’Brien.

“I was doing exactly what a commentator on sports would do,” he said.

The case continues.

Touchdown Bird's arrival date in Haiti confirmed

RTÉ reporter Charlie Bird was definitely in Haiti on the day a broadcast aired from an airport describing him as being in Port au Prince, the High Court was told yesterday.

Paul O’Higgins SC, counsel for Denis O’Brien, who is taking a defamation case against the Irish Daily Mail, said there had been some confusion over whether Mr Bird was at Port au Prince airport on January 15th, 2010, but it had been established that he was. He had flown in on the 15th, he said.

On Monday, the court heard evidence from a number of witnesses, including Digicel chief executive Colm Delves, that Mr Bird and a cameraman had flown to Haiti on January 17th on a Jamaican government jet.

Evidence had also been given that a news report by Mr Bird had been carried on RTÉ from Haiti two days earlier.

The confusion had prompted Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne to remark it may have been the case that “too much faith had been put in RTÉ”.

However, Mr O’Higgins said yesterday there had just been a mixup about dates. Addressing the jury, he made the clarification at the beginning of the day while Mr Bird, who was in court, looked on.