On World Press Freedom Day, NewsBrands Ireland urges swift implementation of Defamation Law reform

May 3rd, 2023. On today, World Press Freedom Day, NewsBrands Ireland continues its campaign for swift reform of Ireland’s Defamation Laws.

World Press Freedom Day is an annual event which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, takes stock of press freedom around the world, aims to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Following decades of press freedom campaigns, NewsBrands Ireland has welcomed the recent publication of draft legislation to reform Ireland’s Defamation Laws. The General Scheme brought to Government in March 2023 provides for significant reforms to defamation law, including the abolition of juries in High Court defamation actions, provisions to address the issue of ‘libel tourism’, and reforms the defence of ‘fair and reasonable publication’ on a matter of public interest to make it simpler and clearer. In addition, the Scheme provides for the insertion of a new Part into the Act to tackle strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPS)

While NewsBrands Ireland welcomes the publication of the draft legislation, reform is long overdue. The Defamation Act 2009 provided for a review of its operation to be completed by January 2015. That statutory review was more than five years late.

According to Ann Marie Lenihan, CEO of NewsBrands Ireland, “It is crucial that the reforms, now prioritised by Government, be implemented as quickly as possible and, certainly, within the likely limited legislative timeframe of the current Dáil. The most important change in the General Scheme is the abolition of jury trials in defamation actions and it is important that this be introduced without delay.”

“A failure to speedily implement these changes would continue to undermine the work of the independent media in Ireland, which further erodes the proper functioning of democracy in this country.” continued Ms. Lenihan.

NewsBrands Ireland are campaigning for speedy implementation of the following reforms:

Juries in defamation cases should be abolished without further delay.

A serious harm test should be introduced in all defamation cases.

As proposed in Head 15 of the General Scheme, the defence of fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest should be simplified.

The measures to restrict SLAPPs should not be allowed to delay the introduction of simpler, but no less important, reforms.