Press Council calls for libel pay-outs overhaul
The Press Council of Ireland has called for libel pay-outs here to be drastically overhauled.
Media professionals from across the country gathered in Dublin yesterday for the launch of the Press Ombudsman's Annual Report 2015. Speaking at the event, Press Council chairperson Dáithí O'Ceallaigh urged the Government to review damages awarded in libel cases. He said: "It does appear to be that sometimes in this country damages awarded are not quite commensurate with whatever misdemeanour may have been committed.
"Maybe we could look at how damages are assessed - let the jury decide on [whether it's] defamation or not, but maybe let the judge decide on the amount of damages."
The Office of the Press Ombudsman last year received 278 complaints about articles published across newspapers, magazines and websites here, the report found. Of the 34 complaints subsequently decided by the Ombudsman, 10 were upheld and 15 were not upheld, with the rest either resolved or having insufficient evidence to make a decision.
Among the alleged breaches of the Press Council's Code of Practice, 153 were made against national newspapers, 29 against local newspapers and 11 against online-only publications.
Almost half related to 'Truth and Accuracy', while 'Privacy' was the second biggest cause for complaint by members of the public.
Mr O'Ceallaigh continued: "If you think of the average wage of a Luas driver or the average wage of a painter of the average wage of a carpenter, you're looking at somewhere between €25-55,000 a year before tax.
"[Yet] you frequently see damages of up to €70,000, which is equivalent in some instances to two years' wages being awarded for misdemeanours that are not necessarily all that serious."