In the early hours of Saturday morning, 02/03/2019 the news broke that Denis O’Brien had lost his long-standing defamation case against the Sunday Business post. Having won a number of defamation cases throughout the years, this was the first he lost and some saw this as a vindication for the Irish media.
The court case and ruling date back to articles published by the paper in March 2015 noted RTE. The articles dealt with the impact of some of Ireland biggest borrowers and developers and their impact upon the recession in Ireland from 2008 onwards. Mr O’Brien was associated with 22 other individuals in the article who had borrowed huge sums in order to fund property developments.
The articles mentioned the risks took by such people and how they overstretched many individuals. It was these points which were the main focus of the defamation case brought by Mr O’Brien reported RTE.
Who is Denis O’Brien?
Denis O’Brien is Ireland richest native-born citizen having founded companies Digicel and Communicorp Group. Both are communication companies which operate in Ireland, the Caribbean and Europe.
His other business interests include property, aviation and hospitality among others. He is estimated to be worth €4 billion.
He also has a majority shareholding in Independent News Media (INM). This has given him a huge influence on the media and news landscape of Ireland for decades.
Mr O’Briens claims lay against wording in the articles which he believed insinuated he was part of a gang and that he and others were solely to blame for the collapse of the Irish banking system.
Arguments were heard from both sides including the editor, Ian Kehoe, and journalist, Tom Lyons, of the Sunday Business post at the time.
They stated that the wording had no malicious intent and that publication of the story was in the public interest as reported in the Irish Times.
The eight men and three women were instructed by the judge Mr Justice Bernard Barton that they could reach a majority decision as they could not agree on a unanimous verdict. Of the six areas, the jury viewed they found none to be defamatory against Mr O’Brien. Given the
Mr O’Brien was not in court to hear the verdict but was instead represented by his legal counsel and publicity aids including solicitor Paul Meagher, longtime ally Maria Mulcahy and legal and publicity adviser Brian Harmon according to the Irish Times.
Due to the defamstion case some publications again highlighted the restricitive laws regarding reporting in Ireland. Some publications saw the result as vindication for press coverage and also a need to change the laws regarding what constitutes defamation in Ireland.
Taoiseach Leo Varadker said, ‘Defamation laws in Ireland do seem to be more restrictive than in other countries’, he then continued ‘We have to balance the need for free speech and free press, and we also need to protect people’s privacy and people’s reputations. Where media organisations or journalists do publish things that are untrue or damaging, it can really hurt people. We need to get that balance right’ these statements were recorded in the Independent.
Meanwhile, Mark Paul said in the Irish Times ‘But, for the wider media industry, which always grapples with the risks of publishing the affairs of powerful people, it may have resulted in something more durable: vindication’ giving a sense of some of the sentiments felt by journalist and other publications in Ireland.
The Sunday Business post released a statement saying “The Sunday Business Post welcomes the verdict of the jury in the High Court today to reject a claim of defamation made against the paper by Mr Denis O’Brien in respect of the paper’s coverage in 2015 of a matter of significant public interest.
Now that the case is behind them both Mr Lyons and Mr Kehoe plan to move forward with a new digital journliasm business.
Both men have left the post to pursue this new online venture long before the court case had begun.
Meanwhile the owners of the Sunday Business post plan to move forward from this case which was inherited from the previous owners.