The rise in social media and online platforms needs to be reflected in new defamation laws.
Local Ireland, the association representing 42 weekly paid-for newspapers around the country, has welcomed the publication of the long-awaited Defamation Review.
The Irish Government this week approved a major 300-page review of defamation laws.
“The current legislation has had a chilling effect on our media”
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has promised to legislate the reviews major findings by the end of 2022.
Among the reviews’ findings was a recommendation that juries should no longer be involved in defamation cases because of their tendency to award huge contracts in the past.
Because of the proliferation of social media and new online platforms in recent, the review also recommends that it should be easier to grant orders directing online service providers to disclose the identity of an anonymous poster of defamatory material.
Redressing the balance
President of Local Ireland Declan McGuire said the review’s recommendations point to a positive response to the needs of news publishers, both local and national.
“The current legislation has had a chilling effect on our media and we welcome the proposed measures aimed at redressing the balance between freedom of expression and a person’s right to a good name, both of which are enshrined in our constitution.
“We particularly support the move towards hearing defamation cases by judges alone and the increased importance attached to mediation processes.
“We also welcome legislation to stop actions by powerful individuals aimed at inhibiting future publication and the prevention of libel tourism, where litigants take cases in Ireland in order to maximise the awarding of damages.
“Measures to provide clearer protection for public interest journalism and to reduce costs and delays are also beneficial for professional news service providers.
“We regret, however, that a cap on damages is not being proposed, nor indeed that a test to establish serious harm be introduced.”
Executive Director of Local Ireland Bob Hughes said: “We look forward to the drafting and consideration of the legislation required to end the unfairness of the current defamation régime and would urge progress in that regard without delay.
“We would also recommend that consideration be given to a cap on damages – as exists in personal injury cases – and that a serious harm test be adopted during the legislation process.”