Monday 26 September 2016

Ireland's notoriously strict defamation laws called into question ahead of World Press Freedom Day

Published 02/05/2016 | 14:25

Ireland's notoriously strict defamation laws have been called into question ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
Ireland's notoriously strict defamation laws have been called into question ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

Ireland's notoriously strict defamation laws have been called into question ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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The representative body for the national newspaper industry, NewsBrands Ireland, is highlighting the significant challenge posed to freedom of expression by Ireland's defamation regime and, in particular, the level of awards made in defamation cases.

Defamation awards are much higher here than the rest of Europe.

The decision of the Supreme Court to award €1.25million in a case which it accepted was not the most serious of defamation actions puts Ireland wholly out of kilter with its neighbouring jurisdictions.

The award is approximately ten times higher than would have been made in the UK.

Ireland is also the only country in Europe where defamation actions are heard before a jury.  In Britain, trials are held without a jury “unless the Court orders otherwise.”

The retention of the jury system creates delays and also a lack of certainty for publishers who have no way to ascertain the extent of their potential liability. As a result, many newspapers simply won’t take the risk of publishing an article.

This has a chilling effect on the media’s role as the watchdog of the public and is at odds with the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day – Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms:  This is your Right.

World Press Freedom Day was declared by the UN General Assembly in 1993 and 100 national celebrations take place each year to commemorate it on May 3.

The date celebrates the "fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, 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".

This year's World Press Freedom Day will be hosted by UNESCO and the Government of Finland in Helsinki between May 2 and 4.

Finland currently holds the top spot of the press freedom index.

Ireland is ranked at number nine out of 180 countries.

The Netherlands, Denmark, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Sweden and Jamaica finishing up the top 10.

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