YouTuber with 700,000 subscribers cleared of Covid breaches by judge

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A YOUTUBER with more than 700,000 subscribers to his music channel has been cleared of breaking covid lockdown laws after a judge accepted he had a media exemption.

Sean Leahy, who owns the Dublin City Today YouTube channel, told a hearing that he intended to film an event at the GPO commemorating the 1916 Rising on April 4, 2021, when he was arrested.

Mr Leahy (51) of Dolphin House, Dublin, pleaded not guilty to a charge for breaking the stay at home laws under the Health Act. It had been amended to include measures for preventing, limiting, minimising or slowing the spread of covid-19.

Dublin District Court heard he had 723,000 subscribers to his channel featuring 3,400 clips of musicians playing around the city.

His acquittal by Judge John Hughes followed submissions from defence counsel Emer Ni Chuagain. She argued that as the channel owner and a broadcaster, he was part of the media category of essential workers with an exemption.

In evidence, Mr Leahy told the court he was not live-streaming but making a recording for his channel. There were not many music events then, and he said he went to video a 1916 proclamation event at the GPO. He said the proclamation was “dear” to him.

The court heard he had a camera and a tripod.

Judge Hughes was told Mr Leahy had 722,000 subscribers to his channel featuring musicians playing around the city.

He also had a separate case pending challenging the legality of the laws brought in during the crisis to halt the spread of covid.

The court heard that he was also within the 5km limit, which applied during the lockdown, and he had not been aggressive to a garda who questioned him.

The State submitted that the court had to consider whether Mr Leahy was masquerading as a bona fide journalist engaged in media activity.

Dismissing the case, Judge Hughes said he had to consider if the accused had a reasonable excuse. He said the regulations at that time had an important category for media.

He said it was very important and necessary for society to communicate programmes and news during the level – 5 stages of the pandemic.

Broadcasters could turn up at any place, whether to capture a murmuration of starlings or a glowing sunset. Judge Hughes said journalists, artists, photographers, and spontaneity “go hand in hand”.

He also noted that it was accepted that Mr Leahy was the creator of the YouTube channel.

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