Press Council makes submission to Department of Justice
Press Release : Press Council of Ireland makes submission to Department of Justice on review of the Defamation Act
The print media in Ireland, as elsewhere, is facing unprecedented difficulties including:
- competition from online news sources many of which are subject to no legal or other controls,
- a resulting decline in commercial revenue,
- expensive defamation actions,
- threats of legal actions.
The Press Council and the Office of the Press Ombudsman are independent both of Government and of the press. The Press Council was established to promote the right of the people to be informed and the right of the press to publish without fear or favour. The Press Ombudsman provides a free, fast and fair way for readers to complain about the way in which they have been treated in press stories.
The Press Council welcomes the decision of the Minister for Justice to review the Defamation Act, 2009 and has made a detailed submission in response to her invitation for views. The submission may be found here. Its main points are as follows.
The current defamation process is costly for all parties, is slow and frequently results in excessive awards compared with other [EU] countries. The Council suggests that cases should be heard in the Circuit Court where there would be a limit on costs and potential awards. In cases where larger amounts are being sought, the hearings might be heard in the Commercial Court. In all cases, there should be a limit on the role of juries in deciding the amount of awards.
To encourage plaintiffs to use the Press Council process or, at least as a first step, section 26 (2)(f) should be amended and strengthened.
While acknowledging that a balance must be maintained between the right to publish and the individual’s right to his/her reputation, the Council is concerned that the media’s confidence in publishing robust commentary is being threatened by the fear of unreasonable and frequent threats of defamation actions from a very small number of persons whose access to finance may be disproportionately greater than that of the press. Any consideration of the current defamation regime needs to take account of this.
The current legislation is unclear on the role of the Press Council in relation to online only publications. Any amendment to the Defamation Act should unambiguously recognise the right of such publications to be covered by the Press Council process.
The Press Council and the Office of the Press Ombudsman have now been in operation for nine years. In that period the Press Ombudsman has received 3,210 complaints of which 175 have been resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant. The Press Ombudsman made 330 formal decisions on complaints of which 114 were upheld. The Press Council has heard 163 appeals of which 11 have been upheld.
For further Information or for Interview Requests for Sean Donlon, chair of Press Council, contact: Ms Miriam Laffan, PA/Administration, Press Council of Ireland: 01 6489130