Low-cost European airline Ryanair has settled with the Daily Mail but is still suing Channel 4 over reports claiming the airline isn’t safe, UK news site The Drum reported.
In August, the UK’s Channel 4 reported on “concerns over the budget carrier’s fuel policy and pilot working conditions,” in light of a Ryanair Pilot Group survey about safety, online travel website Travel Mole reported. Ryanair’s “management refuses to recognise” the pilot group.
Specifically, The Drum noted that the Channel 4 program aired “claims alleging that three Ryanair flights were forced to make emergency landings after running out of fuel.” Ryanair said that the three flights in question “flew for over one hour more than planned due to adverse weather and diversions” but that they “fully complied with EU safety rules when landing safely in Valencia.”
The Daily Mail also reported on the Channel 4 documentary and its claims, which is how it got roped into the libel lawsuit. This August 11 story appears to be the article in question. iMediaEthics has written to the Mail to confirm. The Daily Mail story cited the Channel 4 program, which featured “an anonymous pilot” alleging safety issues and citing the pilot survey.
After the settlement, Daily Mail publisher, Associated Newspapers, said in part, according to the Guardian, that “Ryanair does not accept the results of the survey” that Channel 4 and the Daily Mail cited. Ryanair maintained that, in the case of the three airplanes that landed in Valencia last year, “all three aircraft fully complied with EU safety rules when landing safely in Valencia.”
Ryanair’s CEO O’Leary defended the airline’s safety and said the company was “very pleased” with the settlement. Further, Ryanair’s lawyer Paul Tweed said the claims about safety were “totally false and misleading,” and reminded that there is “ongoing litigation” with Channel 4. Tweed sent iMediaEthics a statement about the settlement that reads:
“My client acknowledges and appreciates the prompt and comprehensive manner in which the Mail have acted to set the record straight in relation to the reporting of what were totally false and misleading statements, originating from a Channel 4 Dispatches programme which remains the subject of ongoing litigation.
“We are continuing to vigorously pursue Channel 4 in relation to their outrageous defamatory broadcast which sought to undermine our client’s internationally acknowledged safety record spanning three decades.
“We will be seeking to have our client’s libel actions against Channel 4 Dispatches and others listed before the High Court in Dublin as soon as possible.”
Tweed also sent iMediaEthics a statement from Ryanair chief pilot Captain Ray Conway about the Daily Mail settlement. Conway said he was “very satisfied” with the settlement and defended Ryanair’s safety. He said in part:
“While I am unable to make specific comments concerning our ongoing legal proceedings regarding Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, I wish to emphasise that Ryanair cannot and will not tolerate what were totally unjustified and inappropriate allegations in relation to our industry leading safety.”
Ryanair Also Suing Channel 4
Separate from the settlement with the Daily Mail, Ryanair is still suing Channel 4, which originally aired the claims. Ryanair immediately responded to the Channel 4 program by announcing plans to “issue legal proceedings…for defamation,” the Guardian quoted a spokesperson for the company as saying.
On its website, Ryanair also published “the full exchange of letters” it said it had with Channel 4 before broadcast. Further, Ryanair noted that Channel 4 “repeatedly refused Ryanair’s offer of an unedited interview with CEO Michael O’Leary” about the claims, but Channel 4 declined because they wanted to be able to “edit his answers, which was not fair or acceptable to Ryanair,” in Ryanair’s opinion.
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And, Ryanair charged that Channel 4 didn’t air Ryanair’s full statement about the claims “unedited.”
Ryanair called Channel 4’s credibility into question, accusing the station of having a bad history of reporting on Ryanair, writing: “Channel 4 Dispatches cannot be relied upon to fairly or accurately report on matters relating to Ryanair, having previously (in 2006) used actors to pose as sleeping Ryanair cabin crew to promote an earlier and equally inaccurate programme on Ryanair’s safety.”
Burnett argued that the actor was only used “for a publicity advertisement” that was “not used in the programme,” and that Ryanair didn’t lodge a complaint to UK regulator OfCom.
The letters go back and forth between Ryanair’s Robin Keily and Channel 4 producer Claire Burnett with Ryanair dismissing accusations and claims made by Channel 4’s reporting, and Channel 4 saying it will abide by OfCom’s code and won’t allow an unedited interview. Channel 4’s Burnett laid out the reasons for no unedited interview in a July 31 letter to Ryanair
“As you know it is not an acceptable condition that any interview would not be edited. We would have to ensure that any of the interview used in the programme was relevant and was used in accordance with the OfCom Broadcasting Code which would of course mean that, for example, that the content of the interview was fair to third parties.”
Further, Burnett added that Channel 4 could “guarantee that any interview would be edited fairly and accurately as we are obliged to do so by the standards of responsible journalism and the OfCom Broadcasting Code.”
In turn, Ryanair questioned the use of anonymous sources and offered to give an agreement not to penalize Channel 4’s sources from Ryanair if their identities were outed. That way, Ryanair said it could fact check their claims. Ryanair also published a statement from its Head of Communications Robin Kiely accusing Channel 4 of reporting on “bogus results of an unreliable, fabricated survey.”
Paul Tweed, who is representing Ryanair in court, told iMediaEthics more about the lawsuit against Channel 4. He wrote:
“So far as the defamation action against Blakeway Productions/Channel 4 is concerned, we recently served the Statement of Claim and expect to receive the other side’s Defence within the next eight weeks. I would anticipate a Hearing date in the High Court in Dublin in or about May 2014.”
In the meantime, since publication, Channel 4 has defended its report. Channel 4 publicity manager Peter Heneghan told iMediaEthics by email “We stand by our journalism and will robustly defend proceedings”
Previous Case: Sunday Times paid Ryanair Libel Damages Earlier this Year for Similar Report
Earlier this year, the Sunday Times paid libel damages to Ryanair over a similar report claiming the company’s planes “broke safety rules 1,201 times in Spanish airspace in the first six months of 2012,” The Drum reported at the time.
In a lengthy print apology, the Sunday Times explained what it had originally reported: “An article (headlined ‘Ryanair accused of 1,201 safety violations’, Travel, September 23, 2012) stated that, according to a leaked report from the Spanish air safety agency (AESA), Ryanair planes broke safety rules 1,201 times in Spanish airspace in the first six months of 2012.”
The Sunday Times went on to say that “We now accept that this was incorrect; there was no such report and Ryanair did not commit 1,201 breaches of safety rules.” The Times added that it was “untrue” to say Ryanair had made “three emergency landings” July 26, 2012 and “was routinely abusing the mayday protocol.”
iMediaEthics has written to the Daily Mail asking for more information about the terms of the settlement and why the newspaper decided to settle instead of fight the claim. We’ll update with any response.