In August 2013, Channel 4 broadcast an episode of its investigative programme entitled “Secrets from the Cockpit”, which included a number of allegations against the airline Ryanair on its passenger safety. The airline issued defamation proceedings against Channel 4, and a number of newspapers which had carried stories on the documentary. The publishers of The Independent, The Mirror, Daily Mail, and the Belfast Telegraph, all issued apologies to Ryanair over the articles, and reached out-of-court settlements.
Channel 4 decided to defend the defamation proceedings, and pleaded a number of defences, including the “allegations were true”, the defence of “honest opinion”, and the Defamation Act 2009’s defence of “fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest”.
In pre-trial proceedings, Ryanair sought court orders requiring Channel 4 to disclose “documents used in the making of the programme”, and in December 2014, a High Court judge granted Ryanair’s request. The Justice ordered the broadcaster to disclose “all documents evidencing or recording all editorial decisions taken” during the making of the programme, and “all documents evidencing and/or recording all research and investigation carried out into the subject of the programme.” The judge also ruled that Ryanair must disclose its fuel policy from 2009 onwards to Channel 4.
Both Channel 4 and Ryanair appealed the High Court’s ruling, and on 29 July 2015, the Court of Appeal partly upheld the lower court’s orders. First, on the order to Ryanair to disclose its fuel policy from 2009 onwards, the Court of Appeal ruled that this was “too broad”, and limited disclosure to the period 2010 to 2012. In addition, Ryanair was ordered to disclose “safety-related incidents” in the period 2010 to 2012. Finally, the Court of Appeal upheld the order that the broadcaster had to disclose to Ryanair “documents related to editorial decisions”, and “documents related to research and investigations carried out by the defendants for the programme”. In this regard, the Court ruled that while “journalists cannot normally be compelled to reveal their sources”, that “protection was not absolute”. Therefore, if the broadcaster wished to invoke protection of sources, it could set out the factual basis for that in an affidavit of discovery later.
Following this ruling, and disclosure of documents by both parties, the full defamation proceedings will take place.
Mary Carolan, “Ryanair ordered to give Channel Four fuel policy documents”, The Irish Times, 29 July 2015
“Channel 4 ordered to give Ryanair documents”, The Irish Times, 17 December 2014
Mark Sweney, “Ryanair reaches libel settlement with the Independent over safety story”, The Guardian, 20 November 2013
Stephen Rogers, “Paper recognises Ryanair’s safety standards”, Irish Examiner, 26 October 2013
Josh Halliday, “Mail reaches out-of-court settlement with Ryanair over safety story”, The Guardian, 12 September 2013