Wednesday 13 December 2017

Libel laws face review as 'awards in Ireland are wholly out of kilter'

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald at Government Buildings yesterday Picture: Arthur Carron
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald at Government Buildings yesterday Picture: Arthur Carron
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has announced a long-overdue review of the Defamation Act, amid continuing concerns that the size of libel awards in Ireland is having a chilling effect on the media's role as a watchdog for the public.

A review of the Defamation Act 2009 was supposed to have commenced in July 2014, but was deferred by the Government.

Ms Fitzgerald finally announced the review yesterday and the Department of Justice will accept submissions until December 31.

Although the 2009 Act allowed judges to give more directions to juries on the assessment of damages, news organisations, including Independent News & Media, publishers of the Irish Independent, believe this has brought about only limited changes and libel awards remain much higher here than elsewhere in Europe.

NewsBrands, the representative body for national newspapers both in print and online, has warned the level of awards in defamation cases presents a huge challenge to freedom of expression.

The size of awards being made under existing laws could threaten the very existence of media organisations, it argues.

In a statement welcoming the review, it said: "The costs involved and the level of awards made place an enormous burden on publishers.

"Since 2010, defamation actions have cost NewsBrands members in excess of €30m.

"Awards made in Ireland are wholly out of kilter with other jurisdictions, including the UK, where effectively a cap of £275,000 (€305,000) exists, though the reality is that awards rarely exceed £100,000 (€110,700), a fraction of the levels awarded in Ireland."

Ms Fitzgerald confirmed the review would examine reforms of defamation law in other jurisdictions and the applicability of such reforms to Ireland.

"Defamation law needs to strike the right balance between two important rights - the right to freedom of expression in a democratic society, and the right to protect your good name and reputation against unfounded attack," said Ms Fitzgerald.

In a statement, the Press Council said the protection of the right to freedom of expression must be central to any proposed changes.

Irish Independent

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