NewsBrands Ireland launch new campaign to highlight the urgent need for Defamation Law reform

Campaign launched to coincide with World Press Freedom Day 2019

To mark World Press Freedom Day 2019, NewsBrands Ireland, the representative body for Ireland’s leading news publishers, both print and online, has launched a campaign to highlight the urgent need for the reform of Ireland’s defamation laws.

Ireland’s defamation laws are among the most restrictive in Europe and throughout the English-speaking world. They result in having a chilling effect on the media’s role as the public’s watchdog and its ability to reveal matters of important public interest.

Click to open a booklet with more details on the defamation campaign

Reform is long overdue. The current Defamation Act 2009 was due for review by the Department of Justice in 2014. However, the review didn’t commence until November 2016.

Speaking about the need for reform, Vincent Crowley, Chairman of NewsBrands Ireland said:

“NewsBrands Ireland along with many other organisations, made submissions to the Department of Justice in January 2017. To date, the review has not been completed. We call on the Department to complete this review as a matter of urgency.
At a time when democratic values are being threatened and undermined throughout the world, it’s in the best interest of democracy that our defamation laws are updated.”
“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 of public interest, may not get revealed because of defamation laws that impose significant levels of risk on publishers. Furthermore, the high level of awards and related legal costs are jeopardising the financial viability of local and national news publishers.”
Mr. Crowley added.

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.

What can be done to bring Ireland’s Defamation Law into line with the rest of Europe?

  1. As a first step, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform must complete and publish the findings of the review of the Defamation Act 2009.
  2. 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.
  3. Cap on damages. Damages in Ireland are much higher – often multiples of the equivalent awards in Europe. The Act should set a cap on court awards as is the practice in a personal injuries actions.
  4. 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.

This week every national and local news publisher will devote their editorials to the subject of defamation law reform. A print and digital campaign devised by Chemistry will run in all local and national newspapers and digital platforms.

Tweet your support @newsbrandsirl

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