Ryanair argues no such thing as journalistic privilege over sources

Airline alleges defamation over allegations in Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ programme in 2013

Ryanair argues that Channel 4 and a production company behind an allegedly defamatory TV programme about the airline cannot claim journalistic privilege over sources of information in the broadcast.

That is because there is “no such thing as journalistic privilege” and it has been established that it is a question of balancing the right to freedom of expression with the right to one’s reputation, Martin Hayden SC, for Ryanair, said.

He was making arguments in Ryanair's application to the High Court for an order that Channel 4 and Blakeway Productions make further and better discovery of information about its sources for the Dispatches show called "Secrets from the Cockpit", which was broadcast in August 2013.

The defendants said that, although there was a question of balancing rights, the Supreme Court had set a high bar for divulging of journalistic sources, including that a pressing social needed to be shown, which, they argued, had not been shown by Ryanair.

The court heard that part of the broadcast included interviews with three airline pilots in uniform but who were anonymised to hide their identities.

Ryanair said the programme was defamatory because it wrongly stated the airline endangered passenger safety by operating a low-fuel policy and by pressurising its pilots to take as little fuel as possible.

The defendants denied the claims and said the statements were an expression of honest opinion and fair and reasonable publication on matters of public interest.

They opposed Ryanair’s discovery application and said that if the full details of sources were revealed, it would put people who gave information on an anonymous basis at risk of “prosecution and persecution” by Ryanair.

Judge and jury

Mr Hayden argued that journalists had no more right to privilege than anyone else.

The defendants, he said, had decided they wanted to be “judge and jury” in relation to whether they had such privilege.

They had also made an “outrageous” allegation that their sources would be at risk of litigation if they were named.

Mr Hayden said there were roughly 2,500 documents in dispute between the parties, most of which had so many redactions as to render them meaningless to the Ryanair side.

The defendants were also claiming legal advice privilege over the script for the programme, as distinct from litigation privilege. My Hayden said that although this concept exists in law in England and Wales, it does not in Ireland.

Eoin McCullough SC, for the defendants, said this was a serious and well-researched programme raising issues that were self-evidently in the public interest.

Ryanair's attitude towards those who came out publicly and had given information to the programme was shown by what happened subsequently, it was argued. One of them, John Goss, was dismissed by Ryanair and was being separately sued over what he said about Ryanair, counsel said.

The case continues before Mr Justice Charles Meenan.