Defamation Bill to be published within weeks

Bloggers beware, this Bill will affect you.

The Defamation Bill was brought to Cabinet last June, but, following strenuous objections to it from more than half the Ministers present, was not published pending the preparation of a Privacy Bill.

The Minister then established a committee, under the chairmanship of senior counsel Brian Murray, to prepare a report on “the appropriate legislative basis for the protection of privacy which would be consistent with freedom of expression”.

This report was expected to be out before Christmas last, but was delayed, and will now be brought to Cabinet the same day as the Defamation Bill.

The Defamation Bill is largely based on a report on the subject from a committee chaired by senior counsel Hugh Mohan, but differs from it in one important respect. The report recommended a statutory press council, which would have been appointed by the Government.

Following objections from the media, this proposal has now been replaced by a voluntary press council, which will have a statutory basis, in that it would meet criteria laid down in legislation, including that it have a majority of non-industry representatives. Having a statutory basis will give qualified privilege to its decisions and reports.

Meanwhile, the director of the UK Press Complaints Commission, Tim Toulmin, is in Dublin this week to speak at a symposium in Dublin City University on the topic, “Can the Press regulate itself?”

The PCC was established by the media industry as a self-regulating body, but has a majority input from members of the public, and is staffed by non-journalists, Mr Toulmin told The Irish Times yesterday.

He disputed the view that it is not effective in dealing with public complaints against the press, because it can impose no sanctions other than public acknowledgment of inappropriate behaviour, stating that such criticism misses the point.

“We are an effective conciliation service. What most people want when they have a complaint is for it to be put right,” he said.

In addition to a range of remedies, Mr Toulmin added, “There is an ultimate biting sanction, which is public naming and shaming by the PCC, which must be published in the paper in question without editing.

The papers do care about this, especially the nationals, as it means a professional standards body is stating they are not living up to those standards.”