Tuesday 25 June 2019

Newspaper bosses are left smarting after libel action

Daniel McConnell

'DO unto others as you would have them do unto you', the old motto goes. For those over in Ballsbridge, that phrase means more now than ever.

Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Irish Mail on Sunday and Irish Daily Mail, are to pay €225,000 in damages and costs to former Smart Telecom chief Oisin Fanning after he won his libel action last week. Fanning got €100k and his lawyers took €125k.

The paper, which has long delighted in the libel worries of rival publications, has a bad case of egg on its face after the high-profile defeat.

It emerged last weekend that the Mail on Sunday, which has a circulation of just over 120,000 (down about 10,000 from when it was Ireland on Sunday), was being sued by Mr Fanning as a result of an article written about his departure from the telephone company.

The Mail on Sunday article, published on October 8 2006, wrongfully alleged that Mr Fanning had been charged with fraudulent conversion, when in fact he had not been, and that he engaged in a "playboy lifestyle" -- equally untrue.

The article, which ran under the headline, "What a Smart move, millionaire phone company founder quit before it crumbled", described how Mr Fanning left the company as "financial clouds started to gather". The article also detailed Mr Fanning's involvement in the failed stockbroking firm MMI, claiming he narrowly escaped jail.

Counsel for Mr Fanning told the court that his client was never charged with any such offence and that he was a simple family man. He left Smart Telecom as a result of discovering a tumour on the back of his neck, which turned out to be benign.

Last week, presiding judge Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne went to resume the case but was told by counsel that the matter had been settled. The paper's lawyer then read out a grovelling apology.

It stated that the Mail on Sunday had made unwarranted allegations, which it unreservedly withdrew. The paper also apologised for the distress and upset that the article caused to Mr Fanning and his family. It was also stated that the paper had agreed to pay a "substantial sum" for damages and it would discharge Mr Fanning's legal costs.

After the article's publication, Mr Fanning said he was "horrified and outraged" by its contents and immediately sought an apology.

Quickly realising its mistakes, the paper capitulated and granted Mr Fanning's apology request the following week, the court was told. However, the apology alone was not enough for Mr Fanning, and he sought, and got, his pound of flesh.

Daniel McConnell

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