Saturday 24 February 2018

High Court makes order on documents ahead of Ryanair's defamation case against Channel 4


Tim Healy

RYANAIR has been ordered to give Channel Four documents related to its fuel policy between 2010 and 2012 in advance of the hearing of proceedings brought by the airline over alleged defamation.

Channel Four Television Corporation has in turn been ordered to give Ryanair documents relating to an investigation, research or inquiry made by it, or by Blakeway Productions Ltd, concerning a programme entitled "Secrets from the Cockpit".

The programme, made by Blakeway, was broadcast on August 12, 2013 as part of Channel 4's "Dispatches" series.

The Court of Appeal made various disclosure orders today in an appeal on pre-trial issues in proceedings by Ryanair alleging it was defamed in the programme.

Both sides appealed against various discovery orders made by the High Court.

Giving the appeal court's judgment, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the Dispatches programme featured interviews with a number of Ryanair pilots.

The general theme of the programme was to the effect Ryanair had endangered passenger safety by operating a low fuel policy and by pressuring its pilots to take as little fuel as possible, he said.

He said the programme also recounted events involving Ryanair aircraft alleged to have taken place at Valencia Airport in Spain on July 26th 2012 and at Memmingen Airport in Germany in September 2012.

The judge said Ryanair immediately issued High court proceedings alleging the programme was defamatory.

The defendants denied defamation, pleaded the allegations were true in substance and in fact and they were entitled to the defence of honest opinion.

Both sides later sought discovery of documents with Ryanair effectively seeking all material used in making the programme and related to editorial decisions. 

Channel Four sought all documents related to in-flight fuel-related incidents and correspondence between Ryanair and the Spanish and Irish regulatory authorities concerning the Valencia incidents.

The judge allowed the appeal by both sides against aspects of some of the discovery orders made by the High Court.

He ruled the High Court order directing discovery relating to Ryanair's fuel policy from 2009 was too broad.

While this category was "plainly relevant" and Channel Four was entitled to the airline's fuel tables and policy documents discussing fuel policy between 2010 and July 26, 2012, any wider discovery was not necessary, he said.

Dealing with documents sought by Ryanair from Channel Four, the judge ruled Ryanair was entitled to documents related to editorial decisions bearing on the entitlement of the defendants to invoke the defence of honest belief and fair and reasonable publication.

The airline was also entitled to documents related to research and investigations carried out by the defendants for the programme, the judge said. 

The judge said journalists cannot normally be compelled to reveal their sources but that protection was not absolute.

The issue of protection of sources was, at present, premature in this case, he said.

If Channel 4 wished to invoke protection of sources, it could set out the factual basis for that later, he said.

Nothing in the court's judgment was to be taken as expressing any view how issues concerning sources should ultimately  be determined, he stressed.

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