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Newspaper group seeks ‘urgent’ review of country’s defamation laws


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The representative body for leading news publishers in Ireland has called for an “urgent” review of the country’s defamation laws.

NewsBrands Ireland, which represents both print and online media groups, said that the completion of the Review of the Defamation Act is six years overdue.

The organisation has also called for a cap on damages that can be awarded to claimants as well as an abolition of jury trials for such claims.

Irish defamation laws are among the most restrictive in the EU and have previously been criticised by the European Commission.

It raised concerns about the impact the laws have on the ability of the press to expose corruption, and the frequency such cases come before the courts.

NewsBrands Ireland Chairman, Colm O’Reilly, said there is “ample recent evidence of important stories being exposed by Ireland’s news media that otherwise would have remained secret.

“But other, equally serious and important matters that are in the public interest, may not get revealed because of defamation laws that impose significant levels of risk on publishers.”

The group is also calling for a new Defamation Act to include a ‘serious harm’ test to discourage trivial claims which can inundate the courts with lengthy and costly cases.

It said payouts in Irish defamation cases are much higher than other European countries and that a cap should be set as is the case personal injury actions.

The use of jurors in defamation cases, one of the few civil actions that still require a jury panel, often result in longer trials and unpredictable levels of awards.

NewsBrands Ireland say these can lead to extra costs on publishers and wants the use of juries for defamation cases to be abolished.

The group also pointed out that a ‘compo culture’ threatening many businesses due to soaring insurance costs is mirrored in the exploitation of defamation laws with claimants pursuing monetary claims instead of engaging with press oversight bodies.

Colm O’Reilly said: “Good defamation policy is categorically not about giving journalists a free rein to write what they like. It is about setting the right balance in order to protect people’s reputations and the need to defend and promote freedom of expression and the media’s ability to freely report on matters in the public interest.

“At a time when democratic values are being threatened and undermined throughout the world, it is in the best interest of democracy that our defamation laws are urgently updated,” he added.

It made the urgent requests to mark World Press Freedom Day 2021, for which the theme is ‘Information as a Public Good’.

NewsBrands Ireland has also launched a series of ‘Journalism Matters’ videos featuring examples of outstanding public interest journalism, including investigative and campaigning journalism.

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