Jury `asked to cherry-pick meanings out of the article'


NO reader could take the article by Eamon Dunphy in the Proinsias De Rossa libel case to mean that Mr De Rossa was involved in crime, the High Court jury hearing the case was told yesterday.

Summing up for Independent Newspapers on the 12th day of the case, Mr Kevin Feeney SC said Mr De Rossa was asking the jury to "cherry-pick" meanings from Mr Dunphy's article.

He said anybody who read the entire article could not come to the conclusion that it meant Mr De Rossa was personally involved in serious crime, as was being alleged by the plaintiff.

Mr De Rossa, the Minister for Social Welfare and leader of Democratic Left, is suing the newspaper group over the article, which appeared in the Sunday Independent on December 13th, 1992.

Mr Feeney told the jury the first question they had to decide was: "Do the words complained of mean that the plaintiff was involved in and tolerant of serious crime?"

"We say that isn't the meaning that can be taken out of it by a reasonable and ordinary person."

The starting point of Mr De Rossa's complaint was the second paragraph of Mr Dunphy's article, which said: "On one side of the argument are those who would find the idea of Democratic Left in Cabinet acceptable. These people are prepared to ignore Democratic Left leader Proinsias de Rossa's reference to the `special activities' which served to fund the Workers' Party in the very recent past."

What was said was that Mr De Rossa had made a reference to "special activities", said Mr Feeney. This told us nothing by itself. The fact that somebody referred to something could not be taken to infer that they supported or tolerated such special activities.

In order to take any defamatory meaning from that paragraph, one had to read it by reference to the Moscow letter, said Mr Feeney. The ordinary reader would have to have additional knowledge over and above what was printed in the article.

The plaintiff was asking the jury to read the paragraph as a link back, to the Moscow letter an event which had occurred (in the news) six weeks previously, while ignoring the fact that Mr De, Rossa had made reference to special activities in The Irish Times just six days before the Dunphy article appeared.

Even more importantly, said Mr Feeney, Mr De Rossa's side did not want one to read the second column of Mr Dunphy's article, because that was where one could find the conclusion Mr Dunphy had arrived at. One could not just look at the first few paragraphs and stop, as was being suggested by the plaintiff.

If one read the second column one would see that Mr Dunphy had given Mr De Rossa "the benefit of the doubt".

Mr Dunphy was entitled to express strong views, but the critical, thing was the conclusion he arrived at. And the benefit of the doubt being given was in respect of the previous sentence, ". .. that de Rossa was aware of what was going on". Mr De Rossa was getting the benefit of the doubt about whether he even knew what was going on.

The plaintiff was asking the jury to "cherry-pick" and select additional information and not to read the full article. Unless one knew about the Moscow letter, ignored the Irish Times interview and ignored the conclusion reached in the second column, giving Mr De Rossa the benefit of the doubt, the article was "absolutely incapable" of having the meaning that he was personally involved. No reader could take that meaning out of it.