Statement by Press Council Chairman on Defamation Awards
Defamation laws are there to protect citizens whose reputations are damaged by newspapers and broadcasters. They are an important part of the vindication of the rights of citizens to ensure that their reputations are not tarnished by inaccurate reporting. But there is a balance to be maintained between the rights to protect a reputation and the rights of freedom of expression.
It has been persuasively argued that the levels of defamation awards in Irish courts in recent years has shifted the balance and has become oppressive of newspapers, magazines, online news sites and broadcasters. The Press Council made a submission to the Department of Justice’s ongoing review of the 2009 Defamation Act to this effect. A report on the review is due later on this year.
The Press Council welcomes today’s decision of the European Court of Human Rights that the level of damages awarded to Monica Leech in her defamation action against Independent News and Media (INM) represents a “violation of freedom of expression”. When people are defamed they are entitled to court awards to compensate for their wrongful loss of reputation. But if the award is so large that publishers run the risk of going out of business there is a real risk that democracy will suffer through the suppression of the means of communicating facts and opinions.
15 June 2017