Thursday 26 April 2018

O'Brien article was 'true and accurate', says columnist

Paul Drury at the High Court
Paul Drury at the High Court

IRISH Daily Mail columnist Paul Drury told the High Court today an article he wrote about businessman Denis O'Brien was his opinion based on true and accurate facts.

"I was offering a legitimate piece of opinion on a matter of enormous public interest that affected and continues to affect every one in this country," he said.


Mr Drury (55) was answering a final question put to him by the Mail's counsel Oisin Quinn on the fourth day of Mr O'Brien's libel action against the newspaper publishers, Associated Newspapers, two editors and Mr Drury over his column on the January 22, 2010.


Written about the week after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, it was headlined: "Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O'Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti."


Mr O'Brien (54) says the article accused him of being a hypocrite over his efforts to assist the relief of Haiti where Mr O'Brien's telecommunications company Digicel has substantial interests.


He says it meant what he was doing in Haiti was motivated by self interest and designed to deflect attention away from the Moriarty Tribunal report which contained findings adverse to Mr O'Brien but which he strongly disputes.


The claims are denied.


Mr Drury told the the jury of six men and six women he "believed what I said, I believe it now and I will believe it to the day I die."


Earlier, he told Mr Quinn that he disagreed strongly with what Mr O'Brien had said about him being motivated by malice and spite and that the article was nasty and mean-spirited.


He said a letter from Mr O'Brien's lawyers to the paper after the article was written describing it as a malicious assault on his (O'Brien's) good name and character was itself an "outrageous ssault on my good name".


"I think Voltaire may have said while I may disagree violently with everything you say, I would defend to death your right to say it and I would defend his (O'Brien's) right to say it about me."


While he was more than happy to agree the article was cynical about Mr O'Brien, it was not malicious as "I have not a malicious bone in my body" and he bore Mr O'Brien no animus whatsover and had no personal agenda against him.


"This is about me writing about something of enormous public interest and being cynical about the motives of a very wealthy and powerful man and about what he chose to say.


"I believe I am entitled to do that and to come to any other conclusion would be a travesty."


Responding earlier to counsel's questions about he article itself Mr Drury explained that as writer of a weekly column the idea for the Denis O'Brien piece came after seeing him in an interview on RTE with reporter Charlie Bird in Haiti.


He discussed it with the editor in chief, Paul Field, and he approached writing it with a certain amount of trepidation because he was aware Mr O'Brien was an influential and powerful man "and one does not lightly take on the 250th wealthiest man in the world."


Mr Drury disputed Mr O'Brien's claim that there were several things that were factually wrong in the article though he accepted it was wrong to say he was a multi-millionaire "because he is in fact a multi-billionaire".


Mr Drury said he was "by nature and profession somewhat cynical" and it was part of his job and that of the media to hold the rich, influential and powerful to account and not to take what they say at face value.


He accepted the article caused Mr O'Brien upset, just as Mr O'Brien had no doubt caused upset to Mr Justice Moriarty, chairman of the tribunal, when he (O'Brien) accused the judge of being "out to get  a scalp".


"I am entitled to express an opinion about him, that it my honestly-held belief and it would be a sad day for democracy if I was not allowed to do it." he said.


Earlier, the court also heard there was some confusion about what day Charlie Bird began reporting from Haiti which led Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne to comment it may possibly have been that "too much faith had been put in RTE".


A number of witnesses, including Digicel CEO Colm Delves, said Mr Bird and a cameraman had flown there on January 17 on seats arranged by Digicel on a Jamaican government jet.


However, Mr O’Brien’s solicitor Fergus Foody, of Meagher Solicitors in Dublin, gave evidence that he had seen a report sent by Mr Bird, apparently from Haiti, two days earlier.


Mr Foody said: "I thought I watched a programme on the 15th that said Charlie Bird was reporting from the airport."


He was then asked to show the court a DVD copy of RTÉ’s news reports from Haiti, which did indeed have a Six One News report from Mr Bird apparently at the Port au Prince airport on January 15, 2010.


The case continues.

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