Legal Matters Mini-Conference Summary

Legal Matters & Regulation: What PR practitioners need to know: Conference Report by Dr Martina Byrne

Our first mini-conference in association with The Bar of Ireland / The Law Library took place on Thursday 16 September with over thirty senior public relations practitioners in attendance.

All of the expert speakers responded to the brief to focus on the specific learning requirements of the delegates. They each rose to the challenge with specific examples and case law very relevant to day-to-day communications practice.

Our MC for the conference, Barrister and communication consultant Niall Quinn MPRII, summarised the afternoon as follows: “A great keynote from Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney and update on Lobbying Legislation from Standards in Public Office Commission Head of Ethics Sherry Perreault, while Clíona Kimber SC and barristers Ronan Lupton BL and Yvonne McNamara BL gave superb industry-focused presentations on Data Protection & GDPR, Defamation & Libel, and Intellectual Property & Copyright”.

A lot of ground was covered which makes selecting take-outs a tough task but here are a few notes from Martina Byrne, PRII CEO:

Peter Feeney, Press Ombudsman explained the complaints process – and ways to avoid it escalating – and advised public relations advisors to familiarise themselves with the Press Council’s Codes of Practice.

Sherry Perreault, Head of Ethics and Lobbying Regulation, Standards in Public Office Commission, spoke above the significant rise in lobbying returns (+30%) during the pandemic. While she complimented the public relations profession on its compliance with the regulations, she reminded those registered that the quality as well as the quantity of returns matter and that returns (‘poor homework’) will be sent back to be improved if they are lacking in detail or deemed not be transparent. She also advised including informal lobbying communications such as texts, and if your client lobbies independently of you – they too must register. She also advised caution in the area of gifts or hospitality to DPOs.

Ronan Lupton, BL, on defamation, had some interesting points on apologies. In a defamation action, an apology made by, or on behalf of a defendant (a) does not constitute an express or implied admission of liability by that defendant, and (b) is not relevant to the determination of liability in the action. Evidence of an apology made by or on behalf of a person in respect of a statement to which the action relates is not admissible.

Yvonne McNamara, BL spoke in-depth on the complex issue of copyright. A rough but useful rule of thumb for anyone who is in the business of using written or graphic works for business is to take it that the work is covered by copyright if it is worth using and that the copyright owner is likely to have the right to control and/or receive remuneration for any use of it which could have commercial significance or value.  Later in her presentation Yvonne said that caution even needs to be exercised when providing hyperlinks to third party material, as opposed to the material itself, if the hyperlink would make the material available to people who could not have accessed it from its original source or if the material has not been authorised (on any source) by the author and if the poster of the hyperlink knew that or did not positively know but was posting for commercial purposes and did not check.

Senior Counsel, Clíona Kimber, used lots of examples from PR practice to illustrate her talk on GDPR and Data Protection and reminded the legal bases for processing personal data – relevant to public relations:

  • Consent
  • Necessary in public interest
  • Legitimate interest

She also advised that specific care be taken when people are working from home or remotely – data on laptops and smart phones need to be secured at all times. She reminded everyone that it is a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act for a data processor to knowingly or recklessly make an unauthorised disclosure of personal data.

For a reminder of who is a data processor, what is consent, and what is legitimate interest see our PRII GDPR Guidelines in the members only resources area of our website here (login required).

Wrapping up the session, Martina Byrne, reminded members that since 2020 the PRII enjoys Approved Professional Body Status with the Bar Society of Ireland which enables all members to avail of their Direct Professional Access Scheme.  This means that you can seek a legal opinion on non-contentious matters from a Barrister directly without having to go through an instructing solicitor. They can be consulted on employment law, commercial & insurance law, data protection, taxation and many other matters. The scheme offers an efficient and cost-effective way to get legal advice should the need arise.

You can find out more on the Bar of Ireland website here.

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