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Irish Daily Mail Opinion Column Led to ‘Landmark’ Libel Case


Denis O’Brien (Credit: RTE, screenshot)

In what is being called a “landmark case,” the Irish Daily Mail must pay Denis O’Brien, who controls Irish media group Independent News and Media, €150,000 in damages for libeling him in a 2010 article. The article in question “criticised his appearance” in TV interviews about his role and experience in Haiti after the earthquake, Irish broadcaster RTE reported.

According to RTE reports, O’Brien said the Daily Mail “accused him of hypocrisy motivated by self interest” and a “PR exercise.”   The article, by Paul Drury, was titled “Moriarty about to report, no wonder O Brien is acting saintly in stricken Haiti.” It appears the article has been taken off the Mail’s website as iMediaEthics was unable to find the article online.

O’Brien’s libel case, which Irish Central described as a “landmark” case, was important for two reasons, RTE explained:

“It was the first major media defamation case to come before a jury at the High Court since the Defamation Act 2009 came into force.

“It is the first time a jury considered the new defence of honest opinion.”

There have been several high-profile libel lawsuits in Ireland in the past years, though, as iMediaEthics has written.  This “honest opinion” defense means, according to the website of Irish law firm Brophy Solicitors:

“The defence of honest opinion will be upheld in an action for defamation if it can be proven that the statement consisted of an opinion that was honestly held. The courts will distinguish between statements of fact and opinion when this defence is raised.”

During the trial The Daily Mail’s attorney Oisin Quinn said, according to Irish Central,

“The right to express opinion is vital to society. This case is about the simple truth of the right to express an opinion. We want you to stand up for the right of someone to express his view.”

The columnist, Drury, added during the trial:

“I was offering a legitimate piece of opinion on a matter of enormous public interest that affected and continues to affect every one in this country.”

According to RTE, in this case, the Mail lost because the jury found the opinion was wrong:

While the jury agreed the piece was based on the honest opinion of the writer, they decided it was not an opinion based on fact and was not in the public interest.”

During the trial, O’Brien noted he didn’t seek help from the Irish Press Council, RTE reported, adding:

“Mr O’Brien replied that the Press Council did not have any teeth and he rejected the suggestion that a right of reply was the way to deal with the issue.”

The Press Council’s Miriam Laffan confirmed to iMediaEthics that O’Brien didn’t use the press council and said in response that reported comment that “Although we have not seen a transcript of the trial we have no reason to believe that this is not correct.”

Laffan also provided iMediaEthics with a press release from the Press Council of Ireland and the Press Ombudsman in response to O’Brien’s comments. The press release was signed by the council’s chairman Dáithí O’Ceallaigh and noted that while the council and ombudsman usually stay out of court cases, he wanted to “emphasise” certain things. He wrote:

“I have received a number of requests for a response to recent statements about the Council and the Office of the Press Ombudsman which appear to be based on a lack of knowledge of the record of these institutions, and a lack of awareness of its effectiveness and relevance in the matter of disputes concerning the press.”

O’Ceallaigh went on to measure the “public confidence” in the council’s Code of Practice and regulation through “an independent system which editors do not control” by noting that “in the five years since it was established, it has received almost 2,000 complaints.”  He added that “Nothing in our procedures prevents anyone having recourse to the courts.”

The Daily Mail may appeal the case, according to RTE.

iMediaEthics wrote last year when O’Brien claimed Independent Newspapers — the company he owns 21.6% of — had “biased campaigns” against him in order to “discredit” him.  Shortly after O’Brien’s claims were made in a letter to the company, Independent News and Media’s CEO resigned.

iMediaEthics has written to the Daily Mail’s solicitors asking if it will appeal and why the article isn’t online anymore. We’ve also reached out to O’Brien’s solicitors asking:

Was the Mail required to take the article off its website because of the settlement?

Is the Mail required to publish an apology or correction?

I’ve seen reports describing this as a significant case because of its use of ‘honest opinion’ defense and because it was a jury trial? Is this accurate?

RTE reported that the Mail said O’Brien “refused a right of reply and looked for damages immediately after publication.” Two questions:

When did O’Brien seek damages or pursue legal action? Was the ‘right of reply’ offered after the column was published? (Link: http://www.rte.ie/news/2013/0208/366807-obrien-says-he-pays-significant-taxes-in-ireland/)

That same RTE article reported O’Brien opted against pursuing any options with the Irish Press Council. Is this accurate?  Why specifically did O’Brien decide not to use the council?

We’ll update with any responses.

Hat Tip: the Journal

via Irish Daily Mail Opinion Column Led to ‘Landmark’ Libel Case.

via Irish Daily Mail Opinion Column Led to ‘Landmark’ Libel Case.

Denis O’Brian and Media Ownership


Last year, the businessman Denis O’Brien addressed the proper role of the owner/controller of a media enterprise, saying that the owner/controller should act “at an appropriate distance from editorial matters” and should be aware of “the responsibility that rests with media owners not to interfere with editorial content”.
On Friday 11 January, the Irish Times published an interview with James Osborne, the former chairman of Independent News & Media (INM), which O’Brien now controls. Osborne is quoted as saying that, on 14 April last year, a Saturday, O’Brien phoned him and demanded that an article about him be withdrawn from the following day’s Sunday Independent.
Osborne said he responded: “No, that’s not what I’m going to do.” And he did not do that. He recalled in the interview that the article turned out to be “pretty innocuous”. It was about the biggest borrowers with Anglo Irish Bank, O’Brien being among them.
Osborne was removed as chairman of INM six months later. Is it reasonable to suppose that among the factors which influenced O’Brien to vote for his removal was Osborne’s refusal to help him breach the appropriate distance from editorial that media owners ought to respect?
This followed the effort made by O’Brien’s representatives to have journalist Sam Smyth removed as one of the INM reporters covering issues to do with him at the Moriarty Tribunal, or to have another reporter working with him at the tribunal.
On 29 October 2010, Leslie Buckley, who was then a director on the INM board and is now chairman of INM in succession to the ousted Osborne, contacted Gavin O’Reilly, the then chief executive of INM, to say that Buckley had had a conversation with O’Brien, who was “very upset with Sam Smyth”. O’Brien alleged Smyth was conducting “almost a vendetta” against him, and he wanted to know whether Smyth could be taken off the Moriarty Tribunal story.
A week later, Gavin O’Reilly had a transcript compiled of a phone message left by Leslie Buckley: “Hi Gavin, Leslie here. Got your text message. Really what we are talking about, is there somebody who can be down there [at the tribunal]. I know there are other reporters, really kind of writing pretty positive situations. There was one good story last week carried – I can’t remember who – but, by and large, it’s generally negative stuff. Someone with our friend down there I think really trying to ensure that a good balanced story comes out. That would be much appreciated. Give me a bell as I’d like to try to resolve this.”
Neither O’Brien nor Buckley has challenged the authenticity of these memos and communications since they became publicly available.
How does such conduct measure up to what O’Brien claims is the proper role of the owner/controller of a media enterprise to act “at an appropriate distance from editorial matters”, and to be aware of “the responsibility that rests with media owners not to interfere with editorial content”?
Sam Smyth left INM last September. Several months previously, he had been let go from his role as presenter of a Sunday morning radio programme on a station controlled by O’Brien.
Today FM said that his departure was linked to falling listenership to his show, but this has been challenged by Smyth.
Smyth broke some of the biggest scandals in our society. For instance, it was he who broke the story of the undeclared (for tax and other purposes) subventions given to Michael Lowry by Dunnes Stores. He added much-needed credibility to the Irish Independent over the years.
But he was on contract, rather than being a staff journalist, and his contract was not renewed. For several months before he left, few articles with his byline appeared.
And what about the issue of media diversity? The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the body with responsibility for the broadcast media, has also played dead in relation to the concentrating of media ownership. Six months ago, it justified this on the grounds that O’Brien did not control INM. Now, with his nominee as chairman, can there be any doubt?
And why has Pat Rabbitte, who pirouetted around this issue some time ago – indicating he was going to deal with the issue of the concentration of media ownership – failed to act?
Has he simply been wrestling with his conscience all this time?

By Vincent Brown
http://politico.ie/media-watch/8861-is-this-government-committed-to-media-diversity.html

One in eight of our super-rich are tax exiles, reveals Revenue


ALMOST one-in-eight of Ireland’s richest people are tax exiles, according to the Revenue Commissioners.

Of the 450 “high wealth” individuals, 54 are resident abroad for tax purposes.

This is the first time the tax authorities have released figures relating to how many Irish tax exiles are in the super-rich league.

Revenue said that last year its “high wealth” section dealt with 450 individuals who have net assets worth more than €50m and non-residents with “substantial economic interests” in Ireland.

It said the “number of non-resident individuals that are considered by Revenue to be high-wealth individuals is currently 54”.

Membership of the “54” club is confidential. But some of Ireland’s biggest business figures are known to have moved their bases to generous foreign tax shelters. This means they only have to pay tax on Irish earnings and not on their worldwide income.

Denis O’Brien, the telecoms entrepreneur and significant stakeholder in Independent News & Media (INM), is tax resident in Malta. Dermot Desmond, the founder of NCB stockbrokers and another shareholder in INM, is tax resident in Gibraltar.

Michael Smurfit, the paper packaging tycoon, has moved to Monaco while the racehorse magnates JP McManus and John Magnier are both tax resident in Switzerland. The supergroup U2 moved part of their business from Ireland to Holland after the Government capped the tax exemption scheme for artists.

In contrast, Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair chief executive whose wealth is estimated at €438m by rich lists, famously said he is happy to pay his taxes here.

While the official number of “tax exiles” is 10,781, some are people who moved abroad, rent their homes and pay tax here on the rental income. Others are foreigners working for multinationals here, or who have investments here.

Collectively they generated €49m in tax last year although it’s not clear how much the super-rich club of 54 contributed.

The issue of tax exiles has riled the taxpaying public, according to recent research by the Labour Party which showed that tax exiles were one of the main issues exercising voters. The Government plans to examine the issue of tax exiles in the Budget, with Labour pressing to tighten up the residency rules.

To qualify as “non-resident”, they must spend less than 183 days a year in Ireland, or 280 days over two years.

Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister, has been lobbied by business interests claiming that any attempt to tighten tax exile rules would scare off investors. A “domicile levy” of €200,000 imposed on wealthy Irish citizens living abroad for tax purposes raised just €1.6m in 2010.

Gerald Nash, a Labour TD for Louth, said: “While it is a fact that Ireland now has a taxation system that is considered by international standards to be among the fairest in the world, the system at the higher end needs to be radically altered to ensure that exacting standards are applied to so-called tax exiles in terms of their treatment for tax purposes.”

via One in eight of our super-rich are tax exiles, reveals Revenue – National News – Independent.ie.

via One in eight of our super-rich are tax exiles, reveals Revenue – National News – Independent.ie.

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