Northern Ireland’s three daily newspapers have expressed strong support for reform of the libel laws.
The News Letter, Irish News and Belfast Telegraph have separately joined the campaign to bring the Province’s defamation laws into line with the rest of the UK.
The Irish News editor was unable to be present at yesterday’s event but senior representatives from the News Letter and the Belfast Telegraph addressed the launch.
This newspaper’s news editor, Ben Lowry, referred to the News Letter’s extraordinary 275-year-old tradition of newsgathering, and said that his experience of journalism, both in London and in Northern Ireland, was “overwhelmingly one of reporters who are upset if they get things wrong”.
He added: “I won’t give you lists of some of the experiences that we have had of libel threats.
“Suffice to say, while we have plenty of thick-skinned politicians in Northern Ireland, who are mostly supportive of libel reform, we also have some of the most thin-skinned public figures in the UK; people who rush to legal threats when, if they did the same around Westminster, they would not only be rebuffed but mocked.”
The Belfast Telegraph’s group managing editor Paul Connolly said that Stormont’s veto of the bill “represents probably the single most important political issue here”.
He warned that the current law had ramifications for anyone writing online but stressed that the consultation must not “cherry pick” the Westminster legislation and added: “We don’t want political games being played with it.”