Newspaper Sued Over Bad Restaurant Review

Posted on February 9, 2007

Well, this has to be some kind of journalism first. A newspaper, The Irish News was sued and has been ordered to pay nearly $50,000 in damages for running a bad review of a restaurant.

The Irish News must pay 25,000 plus court costs to a west Belfast Italian restaurant owner after a jury found a food critic's review to be defamatory. Journalist Caroline Workman's August 2000 review criticised the quality of food and drink, the staff and the smoky atmosphere in the Kennedy Way premises. Owner Ciarnan Convery claimed the article was a "hatchet job".

The newspaper pleaded justification and fair comment. It will appeal the jury's unanimous defamation verdict. Mr Convery's legal team claimed at Belfast High Court that the review was defamatory, damaging and hurtful and said the Irish News has failed to apologise or print a retraction. Mr Convery, a former taxi driver who opened the restaurant in 1991, said he was delighted at the ruling.

"I think justice has been done. Goodfellas is a successful business and today's verdict has proved to me, my staff and my customers that we did the right thing by launching the libel action." An Irish News spokesman said the verdict raised "profound questions involving the freedom of the press. "We firmly believe that newspapers must have the right to publish fair and honestly written reviews, contributed by experts in their particular field and engaging in either praise or criticism when it is justified," he said. "We are convinced that a public interest issue of the utmost importance is at stake here, and we have therefore instructed our lawyers to enter an immediate appeal."

Hmmm...we're not liking this one little bit. There is a serious freedom of the press issue here. If writers are too frightened to run an honest critique of a restaurant or hotel, then the public is not being served. So long as the review was an honest one (and not motivated by some personal motive) then the review should stand as written and the newspaper should not have to pay damages. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.

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