Ireland’s defamation laws are being used to ‘pressure journalists’ - EU commissioner

Low bar for lawsuits in Ireland ‘raises concerns’ over freedom to expose corruption

European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders is to raise the concerns in a virtual meeting with the Oireachtas European Affairs committee on Tuesday.  Photograph: Virginia Mayo/ AFP/via Getty Images

European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders is to raise the concerns in a virtual meeting with the Oireachtas European Affairs committee on Tuesday. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/ AFP/via Getty Images

 

Ireland’s defamation laws should be reviewed as they may suppress the ability of the media to expose corruption, the European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders has said.

Mr Reynders is to raise the concerns in a virtual meeting with the Oireachtas European Affairs committee on Tuesday, in a discussion of Ireland’s record on judicial independence, media plurality, and anti-corruption measures.

“Ireland’s defamation laws raise concerns as to the ability of the press or the media to expose corruption,” Mr Reynders told The Irish Times in an interview.

“In all the member states we have seen more attacks and harassment against journalists. Some murders, in Malta and Slovakia, to harassment on the internet, and harassment through many lawsuits.”

Irish defamation laws are notoriously strict, providing a low bar for lawsuits against journalists and media organisations that are often used to “put pressure on journalists”, Mr Reynders said.

“We will see if it’s possible to change the situation with the intention of the Government to review the defamation legislation.”

The European Commission launched annual country-by-country reporting on the Rule of Law in the European Union last year in a bid to counter backsliding in democratic norms on judicial independence and media freedom, particularly in Hungary and Poland. From this year, EU budget payments are tied to certain rule of law conditions.

In its report on Ireland, the Commission flagged the “frequent use and high costs of defamation cases” as an impediment to media freedom, among other issues including a lack of competition in legal services driving up cost.

However, Ireland is among the EU countries more lightly affected by rule of law problems, and its openness to reform is encouraging, Mr Reynders said.

The justice commissioner is currently in charge of developing a proposed pan-European Union certificate that would ease travel in the bloc by allowing people to prove they have received a vaccine.

He is scheduled to launch the proposal on March 17th, and hopes that member states will approve it in time for it to be in place by the summer.

The certificates will be digital and accessible through a QR code, and will also be available for people who have not received a vaccine, as they can also show if someone has tested negative for Covid-19 or has antibodies because they have recovered from the illness.

“It’s not a passport, it will be a certificate, and it’s a certificate not only about vaccination,” Mr Reynders said. “We don’t want to have any discrimination between citizens.”

The aim is primarily to make travel easier across the EU by allowing vaccinated people to skip quarantine or testing requirements. However, member states could also choose to allow vaccinated people to be exempt from local health rules, for example to attend concerts or restaurants.

“Is it possible to have other uses of that certificate, that will be a decision of the member states,” he said. Likewise, it would be up to national governments if they wished to put in place strict mandatory quarantine, or authorise the use vaccines that had not yet been approved by the European Medicines Agency, he said.

“Some member states are already using Russian vaccines or Chinese vaccines. If they want to do that, it’s their choice,” Mr Reynders said.