Northern Ireland

Lord Black warns that libel law gap threatens media jobs

Media jobs will be at risk in Northern Ireland if it does not reform its libel laws, a newspaper executive has warned.

Lord Black, executive director of Telegraph newspapers, was speaking at the launch of a bill to update defamation law.

Mike Nesbitt's Private Member's Bill aims to bring the law into line with a new act passed at Westminster.

However, Lord Black said "if the worst comes to the worst" London papers may no longer publish in Northern Ireland.

The former Stormont Finance Minister Sammy Wilson declined to introduce a copy of the Westminster act to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The launch of Mr Nesbitt's bill was also attended by the libel lawyer, Paul Tweed, who opposes the proposed changes.

Mr Tweed said he believes the proposal to require individuals to prove they have suffered serious harm to their reputations raises the threshold, restricting the right of people to take legal action.

Mr Tweed said Northern Ireland would "not be a pariah" if it does not change its current law.

In a statement, Mr Nesbitt, the Ulster Unionist leader, said: "Reforming Northern Ireland's law of defamation isn't about protecting the rich and powerful.

"It is about ensuring thousands of jobs are not lost, that the growth potential of our universities is not hampered, and that journalists have maximum opportunity to responsibly hold the devolved government to account."