News Courts

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Ryanair claims there is 'no such thing as journalistic privilege' over sources after alleged defamatory broadcast

Ryanair
Ryanair

Tim Healy

Ryanair claims Channel 4 and a production company behind an allegedly defamatory TV programme about the airline cannot claim journalistic privilege over sources for information in the broadcast.

That is because there is "no such thing as journalistic privilege" and it has been established in our jurisdiction that it is a question of balancing the right to freedom of expression with the right to one's reputation, Martin Hayden SC, for Ryanair, said.

He was making arguments in Ryanair's application to the High Court for an order that Channel 4 and Blakeway Productions make further and better discovery of information about its sources for Dispatches "Secrets from the Cockpit" programme, broadcast in August 2013.

The defendants say, while there was a question of balancing rights, the Supreme Court had set a high bar for divulging of journalistic sources including that a pressing social need must be shown which had not been shown by Ryanair.

The court heard that part of the broadcast included interviews with three airline pilots in uniform but who are anonymised and voiceovers used to hide their identities.

Ryanair says the programme was defamatory because it wrongly meant the airline endangered passenger safety by operating a low fuel policy and by pressuring its pilots to take as little fuel as possible.

The defendants deny the claims and say the words complained of were true, an expression of honest opinion and fair and reasonable publication on matters of public interest.

They oppose Ryanair's discovery application and say, among other things, if the full details of sources are revealed it would put individuals who gave information on an anonymous basis at risk of "prosecution and persecution" by Ryanair.

Mr Hayden said in our jurisprudence, there is no recognised journalistic privilege but it was a question of balancing the right to free speech against the rights of a person or body to its reputation.  Journalists had no more right to privilege than anyone else, he said.

The defendants had decided they wanted to be "judge and jury" in relation to whether they had such privilege.

They had also made an "outrageous" allegation that their sources would be at risk of litigation if they are named.  

Mr Hayden said there are roughly about 2,500 documents in dispute between the parties, most of which had so many redactions as to render them meaningless to the Ryanair side.

The defendants were also claiming legal advice privilege over the script for the programme, as distinct from litigation privilege,  and while this concept exists in law in England and Wales, it does not in Ireland, Mr Hayden said.

Eoin McCullough SC, for the defendants, said this was a serious and well-researched programme raising issues which were self-evidently in the public interest.

Ryanair's attitude towards those who come out publicly and given information to the programme was shown by what happened subsequently.  One of them, John Goss, was dismissed by Ryanair and was also being separately sued over what he said by Ryanair, counsel said.

A Dutch TV company also raised issues about the airline and was subsequently sued though that case was dismissed by the Dutch Supreme Court, he said. A KLM pilot who was also publicly interviewed was also sued, he said.

The case continues before Mr Justice Charles Meenan.

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