Newspaper group urges completion of defamation law review

Industry organisation calls for publication of long overdue examination of Defamation Act

Newsbrands criticised the high level of awards paid out to plaintiffs who took defamation cases against media outlets, which were ‘far in excess of other jurisdictions’. File photograph: The Irish Times

Newsbrands criticised the high level of awards paid out to plaintiffs who took defamation cases against media outlets, which were ‘far in excess of other jurisdictions’. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

An industry group representing newspapers has called for the “urgent completion” of a Government review into Ireland’s defamation laws.

Newsbrands Ireland said the ongoing review of the Defamation Act was now six years overdue.

Ireland’s restrictive defamation laws have long been criticised by the media, as constraining investigative journalism.

Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Monday, Newsbrands Ireland called for the review of the defamation laws to be completed “without delay”, and the findings published.

Newsbrands chairman Colm O’Reilly said there was “ample recent evidence” of journalists exposing important matters that “otherwise would have remained secret. But other, equally serious and important matters that are in the public interest, may not get revealed because of defamation laws that impose significant levels of risk on publishers.”

Newsbrands criticised the high level of awards paid out to plaintiffs who took defamation cases against media outlets, which were “far in excess of other jurisdictions”.

The costly fallout from defamation cases was having a “profound impact on the financial viability of both national and local news publishers”, it said.

Balance and protection

Mr O’Reilly, chief executive of the Business Post, said reform of defamation law was not about giving journalists a free rein to write what they like.

“It is about setting the right balance in order to protect people’s reputations and the need to defend and promote freedom of expression and the media’s ability to freely report on matters in the public interest,” he said.

“At a time when democratic values are being threatened and undermined throughout the world, it is in the best interest of democracy that our defamation laws are urgently updated,” he added.

Newsbrands have called for Ireland’s defamation laws to include a serious harm test, where the plaintiff must prove the article or report caused or was likely to cause their reputation serious harm.

The United Kingdom introduced a similar clause into its defamation laws a number of years ago, aimed at discouraging trivial claims.

Newsbrands has also lobbied for a cap on the amount in damages that can be awarded, given defamation awards in Ireland can be multiples of the amounts awarded in Europe and the UK.