Peter Robinson has claimed that it is “absurd” for journalists and others to claim that the DUP decision to exclude Westminster’s reform of the UK libel laws stifles free speech in the Province.
The decision to block the Defamation Act was not taken by the Executive and was only revealed by the News Letter in March.
Authors, lawyers, journalists and free speech campaigners have urged MLAs to consider reforms which would explicitly defend public interest journalism and academic research. There have also been warnings that national newspapers may stop circulating here.
Asked if he had taken an interest in the issue, Mr Robinson said: “I certainly am interested. I have to say I am bemused at people who want to help their chums in the media out. I’ll stand up for ordinary people who are wronged by the media.
“The suggestion – the absurd suggestion – by some that this restricts in some way the media from doing their job and is an infringement of rights...there is a defence against any defamation case, a total defence against a defamation case, and that is truth.
“So if the media are telling the truth, what are they worried about? Why would they be concerned about this if they intended to write or to publish or to broadcast the truth? That is the defence that they could take and I think the withdrawal of that kind of legislation [in England and Wales] allows a recklessness that we’ve seen creeping in to broadcasting and media behaviour.”
Mr Robinson, who has himself threatened to sue for libel in the past, said that it was not difficult to sue but the “costs are prohibitive”.