NewsBrands Ireland call for urgent completion of the Review of the Defamation Act on World Press Freedom Day 2021

3. May 2021. To mark today’s World Press Freedom Day 2021, NewsBrands Ireland, the representative body for Ireland’s leading news publishers, both print and online, has called for the urgent completion of the Review of the Defamation Act, which is now six years overdue.

The organisation has also launched a new series of ‘Journalism Matters’ videos featuring twelve examples of outstanding public interest journalism which have affected real change in society: from recent investigative journalism which uncovered wrongdoing or illegal activity, to campaigning journalism which achieved tangible results, to the reporting of issues or stories which have changed the public discourse and narrative.

The theme of World Press Freedom Day 2021 is ‘Information as a Public Good’.

The Chairman of NewsBrands Ireland, Colm O’Reilly said “there is ample recent evidence of important stories being exposed by Ireland’s news media 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.

Ireland’s defamation laws are among the most restrictive in Europe and throughout the English-speaking world and were recently criticised by the European Commission: “Ireland’s defamation laws raise concerns as regards the ability of the press to expose corruption.”  The Commission also said it was worried about the frequency of defamation cases in the courts, which are extremely difficult and expensive for publishers to defend.

The high levels of awards – far in excess of other jurisdictions – are having a profound impact on the financial viability of both national and local news publishers.

The ‘compo culture’ which is threatening the existence of many businesses today due to soaring insurance costs is mirrored in the exploitation of our defamation laws by claimants who – unlike in the UK – do not have to prove serious harm to their reputation, yet pursue monetary claims in preference to engaging with the offices of the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council.

“Good defamation policy is categorically 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.

“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,” said Mr O’Reilly.

NewsBrands Ireland is calling for:

The Review of the Defamation Act should be completed without delay and the findings published.

The new Defamation Act should include a ‘serious harm’ test. This test, already successfully in operation in the UK, discourages trivial claims that can chill free expression and inundate Irish courts with lengthy and costly court cases.  Claimants who do not meet the test have the option to take their case to the Office of Press Ombudsman.

Cap on damages. Damages in Ireland are much higher – often multiples of the equivalent awards in the UK and Europe – and very often multiples of awards in serious personal injury cases. The Act should set a cap on court awards as is the practice in a personal injuries actions.

Abolition of juries. Defamation is virtually the only civil action that continues to be decided by juries. The use of juries considerably lengthens the duration of the trial, thus increasing legal costs, and can result in unpredictable levels of awards.

The above recommendations will provide a more balanced and fairer process for the resolution of defamation claims. They will ensure freedom of expression and, crucially, that reputations can be protected in a manner available to everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

www.newsbrandsireland.ie

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For further information, please contact:

Lisa Buckley, Communications and Programmes Director, NewsBrands Ireland

lbuckley@newsbrands.ie 0877779259