Stormont Pushes Forward With Defamation Law Reform

Defamation law reform in Northern Ireland moved a step closer to becoming a reality after a key piece of draft legislation passed a hurdle in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The News Media Association has long campaigned for the regime in Northern Ireland to be brought into line with England and Wales to crack down on the threat to freedom of speech in the province.

Ulster Unionist MLA and former leader of the party Mike Nesbitt’s Private Member’s Bill on Defamation – which aims to bring Northern Ireland’s libel regime into line with England and Wales  – passed through its Second Stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this month.

Writing for the News Letter in Belfast, Mr Nesbitt said: “Every now and then, an invention transforms how we communicate with each other: the printing press; the telephone; the radio; television; above all, the World Wide Web.

“As our laws pre-date the invention of the internet, where reputations are trashed every minute of every day, there was a clear argument for review and reform.

“Having spent around half of my adult life as a journalist, I have an enduring interest in the media and the obstacles journalists face in honest, accurate and necessary reporting and investigation, particularly of government.

“In London or Dublin, that scrutiny is conducted by three groups of people. There is an Official Opposition in Dáil Éireann and the House of Commons. There is a second, revising house, in the House of Lords and Seanad Éireann. And there is the media.

“In Northern Ireland, we have only the third prong of the trident, so the role of the media in scrutinising our Executive is all the more important. Yet, journalists have less protection in our jurisdiction than elsewhere.”

The Bill now passes to the Committee for Finance for close scrutiny.