RTE has been hit with 29 separate defamation lawsuits in the past six years, with a sharp rise in cases so far this year.
The cases have cost the broadcaster more than €4.7m – an average of around €160,000 each – although not all cases are closed yet and costs are likely to rise further.
RTE said it would not be possible to say how often they have been threatened with a defamation claim, but they could provide data on when legal action was actually taken.
Read more:Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald takes legal action against RTE
They said that in 2017 there were eight cases, four the following year and five more cases in 2019, according to records released under FOI.
In 2020, there were seven cases, and only one in 2021. However, the number of defamation proceedings has rebounded, with four already in the first five months of this year.
This includes a case taken by Sinn Féin chair Mary Lou McDonald following remarks made on RTÉ radio about historic abuse cases earlier this year.
The public service broadcaster said the cases also included proceedings in which the lawsuit was brought against RTÉ, but the potential liability would lie with a third party, for example an independent production company with its own insurance.
They said the total costs paid in the cases handled amounted to 4.734 million euros over the past six years, which could include costs related to more historic cases.
However, they declined to provide a yearly breakdown, saying this could potentially identify individual cases or settlements and that it was not possible to break it down between legal fees and damages.
A briefing note said: ‘Some cases are settled with separate figures for damages and costs while others are settled for an ‘all-in’ figure. The figure provided does not include any insurance reimbursement provided by RTÉ’s insurers.
Separately, RTÉ said it had received eight other personal injury claims in the past two years, two in 2020 and six more last year.
Five of them were described as “falls, slips, trips” type complaints and three others were related to stress or trauma, according to the data.
They said no payments were made in 2020 in respect of such claims and a one-time payment of €2,140 was made last year in a case that is still ongoing.
An information note said: “There were no damages and/or costs paid by RTÉ in respect of the two years as these sums are covered by our insurers.”
A spokesman said RTÉ – like all other media organizations in Ireland – operates under one of the “most restrictive and difficult legal regimes in the world” where libel payments were so high that some people felt indulge in libel tourism to make claims in dublin .
He said: “All RTÉ journalists and program managers undergo continuous training on media law and related issues. RTÉ has also put in place editorial controls to minimize risks to our production in these areas.
“It should be noted that damages in defamation actions are a multiple of those awarded in personal injury actions which the government has already sought to reform.”
The spokesperson said that legal costs can also be particularly high and that the introduction of a serious harm test in defamation cases and/or the requirement for claimants to prove that they have indeed been defamed would ensure a more effective balance between freedom of expression and the right to a good name.
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