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Europe’s busiest airline is having trouble enough keeping its flights aloft, and now has legal problems on the ground in its home jurisdiction of Ireland.
A High Court judge in Dublin ruled yesterday that a broadcaster can claim journalistic privilege in the republic to protect its sources in a defamation claim that the airline is bringing.
Mr Justice Charles Meenan rejected an application to force Channel 4 to disclose sources for its Dispatches programme, which has investigated Ryanair’s fuel policy, passenger safety and pilot working conditions.
The judge ruled that while “the identification of Channel 4’s sources, in particular the four pilots, would be of assistance to Ryanair at the hearing of the action. However, it was not submitted nor was it established that the identification of these sources was essential for Ryanair to vindicate its name at the hearing of the action.”
The broadcaster claimed that the ruling was “precedent-setting”. Welcoming the judge’s comments, a spokesman for Channel 4 said it “protects one of the most vital conditions for journalistic freedom — the right to protect not only sources but also their information”.
The spokesman added: “We are pleased the judge acknowledged that the issues raised in the programme were, ‘a matter of the most serious public interest’ and that he recognised that by invoking journalistic privilege we may ‘have weakened our ability to defend the action’. This was a risk we were prepared to take in order to ensure the protection of our sources who assisted us in conducting this important public service investigation.”