Saturday 21 April 2018

O'Brien can never be treated as a 'private citizen', RTÉ tells court

Businessman Denis O’Brien
Businessman Denis O’Brien

Tim Healy

Businessman Denis O'Brien can never be a private person because he is a "media baron" possessing the power wealth can buy, a barrister for RTÉ said in the High Court.

David Holland SC rejected arguments Mr O'Brien was entitled to be treated the same as every other private citizen.

He was arguing RTÉ's case against the businessman's application for an injunction preventing the broadcast of a report detailing his personal and confidential banking affairs with Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).

Mr O'Brien was not just a wealthy person "with the power that money can buy", but he was also Ireland's most powerful media baron, counsel said.

While he was not saying Mr O'Brien had misused that power he cannot complain about the media performing one of its roles in monitoring the powerful. Mr O'Brien personally owns just under 30pc of Independent News and Media (INM) and 27 radio stations around Europe including two national Irish stations, Newstalk and Today FM.

"In short, he is a media baron and is Ireland's most powerful media baron."

While he did not suggest Mr O'Brien "had used his barony" to interfere with editorial matters in Newstalk "or thrown his weight about in INM", he had that power.

"Somebody with that power is not a private person and can never be a private person, he is a public figure".

Mr Holland was making submissions in reply to the case made on behalf of Mr O'Brien for an injunction over a proposed RTÉ report which he says will breach his constitutional and European Convention rights to privacy.

IBRC, which has a separate but related case against RTÉ, supports his application.

Michael Cush SC, for Mr O'Brien, said the damage to his client if the broadcast went ahead was impossible to calculate.

Mr Cush referred to the evidence of independent banking expert Marcus Trench, who swore an affidavit for the O'Brien side in which he said Mr O'Brien's relationship with banking institutions, including the terms of credit extended to him, would likely be damaged. It would seriously undermine his bargaining position with those banks and erode mutual trust, Mr Trench said.

Mr Cush said it was perfectly legitimate for RTÉ to refer to Mr O'Brien's role in Irish life and the fact he is a wealthy and powerful individual. But the line had been crossed when it sought to identify the precise nature of his loans and associated matters.

In an affidavit Mr O'Brien said this was "outrageous" prying into his private banking affairs in a report where the focus was not on him, but on the governance of state-owned bank IBRC.

It was acknowledged the information in the RTÉ report was confidential to him and there was no suggestion of wrongdoing on anybody's part.

But it was an attempt to use that information to promote the RTÉ story.

The case continues.

Irish Independent

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