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
Desert mission’s costs could have reversed cut in respite care grants for 92 families
The bill is enough to reverse a €325 cut to the €1,700 respite care grant – introduced by last week’s Budget while Mr Hogan was in Qatar – for 92 families.
Mr Hogan and his ministerial entourage of nine spent a week at the UN talks toiling at back-to-back round table sessions, bilateral meetings and political briefing.
But the lasting image of the jaunt will be the Irish Daily Mail‘s pictures of the minister relaxing over drinks in his five-star hotel bar with his press adviser Yvonne Hyland, a former Fine Gael press officer.
The photographs were published on Budget Day, hours before the public was to discover the extent of the tax increases emanating from his department on cars and homes. They were reportedly taken at the end of a long day of back-to-back meetings.
Meanwhile, the burdened citizens back home who are paying for Mr Hogan’s trip were counting the cost of his latest austerity measures.
For a Government bent on selling a message of austerity, the timing was poor. The department said the costs of the trip came to €5,000 for flights and €16,000 for hotel accommodation. On top of the cost of flights and accommodation, the group of 10 would be entitled to claim foreign subsistence rates intended to cover any food, drinks and other costs incurred by Mr Hogan and his civil servants while abroad.
Daily subsistence of about €100 over seven days adds €7,000 to the bill, bringing the final cost closer to €30,000.
Although the sum is relatively modest in the scheme of Ireland’s debt problems, €30,000 is enough to reverse the €325 cut to the €1,700 respite care grant for 92 families or to extend the newly-cut €1,375 grant to an additional 21 families.
The department said it had “no response” to the publication of photographs last week showing Mr Hogan and Ms Hyland relaxing over a drink.
One of the few TDs to query Mr Hogan’s absence
ANALYSIS PAGE 28
from the Dail on Budget week was Sinn Fein’s Aengus O Snodaigh.
Mr Hogan and his ministerial entourage were in Doha to bone up on international environmental issues in advance of Ireland’s assuming the EU Presidency next month.
He was accompanied by his private secretary, Eddie Kiernan, Ms Hyland, and John McCarthy, the assistant secretary at the department’s environment division. Six other officials were also in the group but his department did not name them. Some of the party travelled in advance, no doubt to get in early to prepare the ground. They flew economy on flights from Dublin to Doha via Abu Dhabi – at a cost of around €500 each.
“The numbers attending (Mr Hogan and nine officials) on the department’s part are being kept to the minimum necessary to allow us to be able to cover multiple parallel tracks of meetings and to prepare us for the Presidency role that we will have to discharge from January to June, including leading for the EU at an inter-sessional meeting in Bonn,with the possibility of a second inter-sessional also being mooted,” a Department spokesman explained.
Mr Hogan and his officials stayed at the Kempinksi Hotel in Doha, which offers a range of luxury suites and “sky villas” with “Arabian sun peaking through the floor-to-ceiling windows.”
But far from living it up in solo luxury, the department staff doubled up to save money. A spokesman said they shared “what are, in effect, two-bedroom apartments”.
Mr Hogan, meanwhile, had what the department called his own “one-bedroom unit” but which was reportedly one of the suites touted by Kempinski on its website, on the 49th floor, complete with four bathrooms, a kitchen and panoramic sea views.
“In both cases the accommodation is the cheapest of three available categories of accommodation in the hotel,” the spokesman said, coming in at a relatively modest €149 a night
Although Qatar governs itself according to strict Sharia law, luxury hotels are allowed to sell alcohol to non-Muslims.
The department claimed the delegation was among the smaller groups attending the international conference. Almost 200 nations attended the climate change talks which were aimed at negotiating a new international treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2015. Mr Hogan will be the minister leading the EU’s work on climate change when Ireland takes over the EU presidency in January.
And it was necessary to send nine officials to various parallel meetings going on at any one time.
During the seven days, Mr Hogan gave one three-minute address to a UN plenary session in which he spoke about the need for urgent action on climate change.
He also promised delegates “an ambitious environmental agenda” when Ireland takes over the Presidency of the European Council in January.
According to a schedule released by his department, he spent much of the week attending daily co-ordination meetings with 27 EU ministers; bi-lateral talks with EU ministers and the UN; ministerial round-table talks; and multiple “bilateral talks” with small island states, with Russia and with “least developed countries” and with non-government agencies.
He also attended a ministerial breakfast hosted by Mary Robinson
Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships in New Ross, he defended his decision to write the letter. He said he was entitled to write it.
He had earlier been urged to make a full statement over his apparent intervention in a housing allocation case to prevent a Traveller family from being housed.
The Irish Traveller Movement has expressed concern.
It said it understands that neither Minister Hogan nor Junior Minister Jan O’Sullivan have the legislative functions to impose or intervene in individual cases on accommodation matters.
“We are therefore concerned that in this case involving a family in Kilkenny that Minister Hogan should appear to intervene favourably on a constituent’s behalf, in what could be interpreted as being opposed to the favourable provision of housing to Travellers.”
Ms McDonald held up a copy of the Irish Daily Mail, where the story first appeared, saying Mr Hogan needed to be made aware that discrimination was illegal, including discrimination against Travellers.
Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said at face value it was a very serious issue.
He said that a minister interfering in a housing allocation process to prevent a Traveller family being housed on the basis of them being Travellers would be “an extraordinary abuse of power”, as well as being illegal.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Ó Cuív called for Minister Hogan to publish the reference that he made to Kilkenny County Council.