Former journalist Gemma O’Doherty has been ordered by the High Court to remove videos posted on the internet about Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital and its director of nursing.
Mr Justice Senan Allen granted the injunctions, under the Defamation Act 2009 and pending the full hearing of proceeding, after finding the three videos are defamatory and Ms O’Doherty had advanced no reasonable defence to the plaintiffs’ claim in that regard which was likely to succeed.
Eoin McCullough SC, with Michael Binchy BL, for the hospital and its director of Nursing, Maria Murray, sought the orders in proceeding alleging defamation in the videos in which Ms O’Doherty claimed, inter alia, hospital staff are being “forced” to take “experimental Covid-19 injections” which, she alleged, have killed thousands of people.
Ms O’Doherty also claimed in the videos that staff who did not take vaccines were harassed and demoted, described the hospital as “a death camp,” and said it employed “psychopaths” and “had committed crimes against humanity”.
She further claimed the hospital had denied life-saving treatment to patients, and is administering “lethal” injections of Covid-19 vaccines.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Senan Allen found they were defamatory, Ms O’Doherty had no reasonable defence to that, and said he was making various orders, including injunctions, requiring Ms O’Doherty to take them down.
What Ms O’Doherty had said in her reporting about the hospital and Ms Murray was “devoid of substance” and there was no prospect of her ever standing it up, he said.
He said courts must be careful not to interfere with free speech or the free expression of opinions but they will intervene if it can be shown statements have been made, and are liable to be repeated, for which there is no reasonable basis.
The judge said he absolutely agreed with Ms O’Doherty that journalists have a duty to report and comment on matters in the public interest, even if what is reported has a negative impact on the reputations of those involved.
He further agreed with her,that journalists have a role in holding powerful institutions like the hospital to account, and that shining a light on poor behaviour forces public bodies to do better and improve standards.
However, he rejected Ms Doherty’s claim the pursuit of the injunctions against her was tantamount to denying journalists the human right to freely report on matters of public importance.
With the right of free speech “comes the responsibility not to wantonly or recklessly impugn the good name of others,” he said.
‘Goes much too far’
He was satisfied to make orders requiring the defendant to remove the videos and cease publishing the defamatory statements at the centre of the action.
He declined to make an order restraining Ms O’Doherty publishing anything about the hospital or Ms Murray because that “goes much too far.”
The orders are to remain in place pending the outcome of the full hearing of the plaintiffs’ defamation action against Ms O’Doherty.
In opposing the injunctions , Ms O’Doherty said she would “not be silenced” over what she said was one of the biggest scandals in the history of the State which she had been reporting on. She said she stood over what she had said in the videos.
She submitted the action was “spurious”, “outrageous” and “a waste of public money”.
Mr Justice Allen said the action was not about Ms O’Doherty’s “fringe views” on vaccines or on Covid-19. She was entitled to her own opinion whether there is an emergency or not, he said.
What she has said in the videos was that the plaintiffs “well knowing that there is no Covid-19 crisis” had engaged in practises such as restricting life-saving medical treatment, and had administered Covid-19 vaccines to staff without consent, he said.
It was his firm view she has no reasonable prospect of establishing the truth of what she has said about the plaintiffs, he said.
To do so, she would have to prove the plaintiffs “secretly agree with her views” there is no Covid-19 crisis and that hospital staff should be given vitamins and zinc instead of vaccine injections.
The judge was satisfied this was not a defence that is reasonably likely to succeed. He concluded liability for the costs of the injunction application should be decided when final orders regarding costs are being made after the full hearing.