Irish libel laws a ‘sword hanging over every newspaper’

Vincent Crowley outlines concerns at event in Dublin’s Mansion House

The State’s current libel laws are a “sword hanging over the head of every national newspaper in this country”, the chairman of their representative body said.

Vincent Crowley, chairman of NewsBrands Ireland, said there was is a “relentless demand” for information today.

“Quality journalism is a cornerstone of democracy and a legacy that will help future generations to understand why the world is the way it is.”

Addressing the journalism awards ceremony in the Mansion House on Thursday, Mr Crowley said original journalism needed to be protected.

“We need a legislative framework that protects the ability of publishers to create and invest in original news content,” he said.

“The current libel laws are a sword hanging over the head of every national newspaper in this country,” Mr Crowley said.

“The costs involved, and the level of awards made, place an enormous burden on publishers, and the need for change has never been more pressing.

“In that context, we welcome the Tánaiste’s forthcoming review of the Defamation Act.”

Mr Crowley said the proposed EU copyright directive, if passed, would “significantly strengthen the rights of all those who invest in original content, including publishers”.

Zero VAT

He said Irish newspapers should be subject to a VAT rate of zero, as they were in the UK and several other European countries, and that VAT on print and digital news should be aligned.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the journalism awards were a fitting tribute to the many talented journalists who make such a valuable contribution to Irish society.

“Their diligent work sheds light on what is happening on our streets, in our hospital wards, in our courtrooms and our boardrooms, enlightening and entertaining hundreds of thousands of people every day. It is vital work and I commend all today’s winners.”

Dermot Griffin, chief executive of Premier Lotteries Ireland, said: “We are delighted to support the 2016 Journalism Awards and congratulate all of today’s winners, including our overall Journalist of the Year, Mick Clifford – a worthy winner.”

At the event in the Mansion House, journalist and broadcaster Matt Cooper paid tribute to murdered journalists Veronica Guerin of the Sunday Independent, and Sunday World journalist Martin O'Hagan. This year marks 20 years since Guerin's killing. O'Hagan was shot dead by loyalist gunmen in 2001.

“Their deaths were an attack, not only on journalism but on democracy itself,” Cooper said.

“We must acknowledge that journalists today are still being threatened and intimidated in their quest to expose wrongdoing.”