RTÉ sued over 'Nob Nation' brothel claim

Tuesday 12 July 2011 17.50
RTÉ sued over 'Nob Nation' brothel claim

A Co Waterford guesthouse owner is suing RTÉ for defamation over a ‘Nob Nation’ broadcast in which he claims his premises was described as a brothel.

Vincent O'Toole, 84, who owns the Maryland House at the Mall in Waterford, took a successful libel action against the Sunday World newspaper in 2007 over a similar claim.

Mr O'Toole, a former shipsmaster, and racehorse breeder, who was described as a ‘leading light’ in the local Waterford community, is suing over an episode of Nob Nation broadcast on the Gerry Ryan Show on 2FM 18 months later in August 2008.

His Senior Counsel, John Gordon said Mr O'Toole was extremely distressed and deeply frustrated by the broadcast.

Even as recently as last week, he said, a tourist turned up at his guesthouse, expecting that he was arriving at a brothel.

He said Mr O'Toole and his wife had been abused and had had to call gardaí on occasions.

Mr Gordon said RTÉ had published programme standards and guidelines in June 2008, but were in complete dereliction of those standards when they broadcast the Nob Nation sketch.

He said the piece was embarrassingly vulgar and obnoxious and untrue as it referred to Mr O'Toole's premises and the defamation was made worse by the fact that RTÉ had left the podcast on their website until March 2010.

He said it was still available on YouTube.

Mr Gordon said RTÉ had let the genie out of the bottle and had not given Mr O'Toole any assistance to get the broadcast off the internet, and that the original broadcast was heard by more than 200,000 people.

Before the sketch was played to the jury, Mr Gordon said they would probably find themselves wincing because it was the ‘most vulgar type of broadcast imaginable’.

The sketch featured ‘Kevin My-arse’ giving a Linguaphone guide to Waterford slang. And it stated that: ‘The Maryland is a byword in Waterford for prostitution although the original establishment has ceased trading’.

Mr Gordon said Mr O'Toole had spent several years fighting for the reputation of his guesthouse against the Sunday World.

Eighteen months after a happy conclusion to those proceedings, RTÉ graphically reasserted that the premises was a brothel in an extraordinarily coarse broadcast.

At the end of the piece, the late Gerry Ryan encouraged listeners to listen to it ‘again and again and again’ on their computers.

Mr Gordon said Mr O'Toole was entitled to be compensated appropriately for this never ending libel and was also entitled to be awarded punitive damages for the manner in which RTÉ dealt with the broadcast.

He said it was a sketch but a sketch that fell into the unforgiveable trap of rubbishing a person's reputation.

It must be possible, he said, to write an hilarious sketch without doing so at the expense of someone else. You would think RTÉ would be good at that but apparently not, he said.

The court was told RTÉ had apologised for any distress caused in a letter sent to Mr O'Toole's solicitors.

In a later letter, RTÉ said the piece was not defamatory.

In its defence, RTÉ admitted the words were defamatory of Mr O'Toole but said the broadcast had caused him limited emotional damage and limited damage to his reputation.

It said the damage was limited by the fleeting nature of the reference in the broadcast, the generally jocose tone and it also claimed that a search of Vincent O'Toole and the Maryland on Google would first bring up the libel case against the Sunday World which he won.