1 November 2006


In Ireland, the government has tabled two new bills aimed at bringing the country's defamation and privacy laws more in line with European human rights standards. However, ARTICLE 19 and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) have expressed concern that some of the provisions in the bills still pose a threat to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Although the Defamation Bill (2006) decriminalises almost all forms of defamation, it introduces a new crime - "publication of gravely harmful statements." Under the provision, journalists could be jailed if found guilty of such an offence.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)'s Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, has criticised the provision, saying it "clearly contradicts the guidance of the European Court of Human Rights which has never approved imprisonment sentences for defamation."

The bill also provides for the creation of a statutory Press Council that would handle complaints against the media. ARTICLE 19 says examples around the world have shown that "such bodies are controversial at best, and are often unreasonably restrictive of the right to freedom of expression."

The Privacy Bill (2006) is worrisome because it would make unlawful the "publication of much material that is clearly in the public interest," says WAN. Under the proposed bill, individuals could secure court orders in secret to prevent the publication of material that is in the public interest.

It would also make "watching, besetting or following" an individual a violation of privacy. "This would include cases in which a journalist reasonably believes someone may be guilty of a serious crime or fraud," says WAN.

ARTICLE 19 says the Privacy Bill would "bring clarity to the notoriously difficult realm of breaches of privacy." However, it warns that the definition of privacy is not clear enough and imposes obligations on the media that do not meet international free expression standards.

Visit these links:

- ARTICLE 19 Analysis of Defamation and Privacy Bills: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/analysis/ireland-def-priv.pdf- WAN: http://www.wan-press.org/article12291.html- OSCE: http://www.osce.org/fom/item_1_20783.html- International Herald Tribune: http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/10/01/business/papers02.php

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