NUJ welcomes long overdue libel reform measures

  • 01 Mar 2022

Séamus Dooley said it was a "welcome step in freeing the Irish media from the shackles of draconian defamation laws".

The National Union of Journalists has strongly welcomed measures  approved by the Cabinet for reform of Ireland’s draconian libel laws.

The union will consider the full report over the coming weeks and look forward to contributing to debate on the Bill when it is published.

Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, said the long overdue publication of the proposals was “a welcome step in freeing the Irish media from the shackles of draconian defamation laws which has gravely undermined the rights of the media and by extension, Irish citizens".

He said:

"This is a comprehensive and far-ranging review and it is vital that the government gives urgent priority to the legislation necessary to give effect to the recommendations.

"The right to freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy. The right to the protection of good name and reputation is of vital importance but the current libel laws have for long been abused to inhibit the media, especially by those with deep pockets and large bank accounts.  

"The protection for responsible, public interest journalism is very welcome and the NUJ is especially pleased at anti SLAPP measures  which should help bring an end to the use of defamation proceedings by wealthy individuals to thwart media investigations."

The measures will allow for summary dismissal of SLAPP proceedings  (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation),  a weapoinsation of the law by powerful forces.

The clear purpose of a SLAPP lawsuit is typically to censor, silence and intimidate the media and to inhibit freedom of expression. The NUJ has long campaigned for anti SLAPP measures across Europe and this is a very significant step. Likewise we have been calling for action to deal with online abuse, including defamation, since damage can be inflicted at incredible speed across the globe by keyboard warriors hiding behind virtual masks.

The decision to abolish juries in High Court cases is an inevitable consequence of the high costs awarded by juries.

Seamus Dooley added:

“We welcome the suite of measures to reduce legal costs and delays, the easier and prompt access to the courts for those whose reputation is unfairly attacked and the emphasis on alternative dispute resolution/mediation mechanism. The review also recognises the role of the Press Council of Ireland and the work of the Ombudsman. It is essential that media organisations make a long-term commitment to the ongoing funding of the Press Council, so that its future is secured. The work of the Press Council of Ireland is important to media organisations, to editors, journalists and readers and the industry must recommit to a sustainable funding model.

"The NUJ welcomes the acceptance of our proposal to amend the defence of innocent publication, to exempt a broadcaster from liability for a statement made by a contributor during a live broadcast, provided that it has taken reasonable precautions prior to the broadcast and exercises reasonable care during the broadcast. This is an important recognition of the perils of live broadcasting."

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