It would be "perfectly ludicrous" if libel proceedings could be issued every time a critic wrote a bad review, a lawyer has told a Belfast court.
The Irish News is appealing the court ruling
Lord Lester, QC, was speaking at the close of a two-day appeal by Northern Ireland newspaper, the Irish News.
The paper is appealing a defamation finding made against it last February.
The paper had been told to pay £25,000 to a west Belfast Italian restaurant owner after a jury found a food critic's review to be defamatory.
Journalist Caroline Workman's August 2000 review criticised the quality of food and drink, the staff and the smoky atmosphere in Goodfella's restaurant, Kennedy Way.
Owner Ciarnan Convery claimed the article was a "hatchet job".
The jury's verdict that the review was defamatory was unanimous.
But this week, the newspaper pleaded justification and fair comment and appealed the finding.
The appeal was heard by a panel of three judges at Laganside Court.
Lord Lester told the appeal that a distinction had to be drawn between a factual news report and a feature in which the writer expressed an opinion.
The restaurant review had clearly been a feature in which the reviewer "in good faith and without malice gave a valued judgment on her visit to the restaurant," he argued.
Michael Lavery, QC, for restaurant owner Mr Convery, rejected claims that the jury had been misdirected in last year's case.
Reviewers must be able to offer proof to back their views, he said.
"The way the jury approached this is they isolated the facts from the comment and they looked at the defamatory words," he said.
He argued against drawing a difference between factual reporting and a review.
Judgement was reserved in the case, which could have far reaching implications for newspapers and magazines across the United Kingdom.