Channel 4 under pressure to reveal sources of Dispatches probe into Ryanair through Irish court

Channel 4 and a production company have become embroiled in a court battle with low-cost airline Ryanair over their rights to protect confidential sources following a Dispatches investigation.

Ryanair is suing the broadcaster and Blakeway Productions for defamation over a Dispatches programme entitled Secrets from the Cockpit which was aired in August 2013.

The airline has asked the High Court in Dublin to order the broadcaster and production company to disclose their sources of information used in the documentary, which it claims is defamatory because it wrongly suggested that it endangered passenger safety through its policy on fuel.

Channel 4 and Blakeway Productions argue that they should not be ordered to disclose information which could lead to the unmasking of sources – who supplied information on the condition that they would remain anonymous – because such an order would breach their right to freedom of speech, and to protect confidential sources, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Disclosing the details would also leave their sources open to the risk of “prosecution and persecution” by Ryanair, they say.

Ryanair’s counsel told the High Court last week that the defendants could not claim the right to protect confidential sources as there was “no such thing as journalistic privilege” in Irish law, the Irish Examiner, Irish Independent and Irish Times newspapers reported.

Martin Hayden SC, for the airline, also said that it was settled that in Ireland the question was one of balancing the right to reputation with the right to freedom of expression.

Channel 4 and Blakeway Productions, which are defending the case on the basis that the words complained of were true, were also honest opinion and were a fair and reasonable publication on matters of public interest, say the onerous test set by Ireland’s Supreme Court before journalistic sources could be unmasked includes a requirement that a claimant should demonstrate a pressing social need for disclosure, and that Ryanair has failed to show that this was necessary.

They also referred to the case law from the European Court of Human Rights in a bid to protect the anonymity of their sources.

A further hearing in the case is scheduled to start today and last for the rest of the week.

Picture: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

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