Northern Ireland news

Free expression group notifies the Council of Europe about Mary Lou McDonald's defamation case against RTÉ

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald. Picture by Mal McCann

A GROUP that "defends free expression worldwide" has notified the Council of Europe about Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald's defamation case against RTÉ.

Mrs McDonald initiated court proceedings against the national broadcaster last month over an item on the Morning Ireland radio programme in February.

The Sinn Féin leader was not involved in the discussion about the controversial exclusion of coalition politicians from a National Women's Council rally, but reference was made to Sinn Féin's treatment of Máiría Cahill, who was raped by a suspected senior IRA figure.

Sinn Féin and RTÉ have declined to comment on the legal proceedings.

The Index on Censorship, a London-based media freedom group has filed a media freedom alert with the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, according to the Irish Examiner

“We are alarmed at the legal action that has been filed against RTÉ by the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald as we believe the action is characteristic of a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or ‘Slapp' ((strategic lawsuit against public participation),” said Jessica Ní Mhainín from Index on Censorship.

“We identify Slapps through some key hallmarks, but fundamentally they involve powerful people making legal threats or taking legal actions against public watchdogs – such as media outlets – in response to public interest speech that may be inconvenient to them or their interests."

Ms Ní Mhainín said the alert was the third it had filed with the Council of Europe and the second this month.

The Index on Censorship and the International Press Institute issued an alert in relation to MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly's legal action against RTÉ.The two have issued separate defamation proceedings against the broadcaster over an item aired on Radio 1's Drivetime last year.A lawsuit against the Dublin Inquirer newspaper, its co-founder Sam Tranum and reporter Laoise Neylon in 2020 has also been flagged by the Index on Censorship.

The COE platform was set up in 2015 and reports on serious threats to the safety of journalists and media freedom in Europe.

In its most recent report it said Slapps “continued to be used as a tool to silence critical media and journalists throughout Europe”.

“Politicians are elected by citizens; they and their actions must therefore be subject to public scrutiny. Lawsuits that discourage or prevent discussions that are in the public interest can have a serious and damaging impact on media freedom and on our democracies," Ms Ní Mhainín said.

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