Stankiewicz and Others v. Poland 2014 The applicants were two journalists and the publisher of the national daily newspaper where they both worked. The case concerned an article they published in that paper, in which they alleged that a high official of the Ministry of Health was involved in corrupt practices. The applicants complained that the Polish courts’ decisions had violated their right to freedom of expression.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, finding in particular that the Polish judicial authorities had not carried out a careful balancing exercise between the right to impart information and protection of the reputation or rights of others. The reasons relied on by Poland to justify the interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression, although relevant, were not sufficient to show that that interference was necessary in a democratic society.
Morar v. Romania 2015 case concerned the criminal conviction and civil liability of a journalist working for a satirical weekly for defamation against the political adviser to an electoral candidate. The applicant alleged that his freedom of expression had been impeded. In this case the Court reiterated, in particular, that while Contracting States were permitted, or even obliged, to regulate the exercise of freedom of expression so as to ensure adequate protection by law of individuals’ reputations, they could not do so in a manner that deterred the media and opinion formers from fulfilling their role of alerting the public to questions of general interest – such as the relationships between public figures and the former repressive Romanian regime before 1989. It thus found that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, as the interference could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society within the meaning of Article 10.
Kapsis and Danikas v. Greece 2017 case concerned an award of damages of 30,000 euros against the director of a daily newspaper (the first applicant) and a journalist (the second applicant), jointly with the newspaper’s proprietor, for a press article describing as “completely unknown” an actress who had been appointed to an advisory board on subsidies awarded by the authority for theatres.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention. It found in particular that the Greek authorities had not given relevant and sufficient grounds to justify the award against the journalists, taking the view that the sanction was not proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued (protection of the reputation or rights of others) and that the judgment did not meet a pressing social need.
Alleged Sex Abuse
Erla Hlynsdottir v. Iceland (no. 2) 2014 This case concerned the complaint by a journalist of having been found liable for defamation following the publication in 2007 of an article about a high-profile criminal case involving the director of a rehabilitation centre and his wife, who were suspected of sexual abuse.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention. It found in particular that the Icelandic courts had not based their judgment on relevant and sufficient grounds demonstrating that the applicant had acted in bad faith or without the due diligence. Moreover, they had not balanced her right to freedom of expression as a journalist and the right of the director’s wife to her reputation.
Olafsson v. Iceland 2017 The applicant was an editor of the web-based media site Pressan. He published articles insinuating that a political candidate had committed sexual abuse against children. The Supreme Court of Iceland held the applicant liable for defamation. He complained to the European Court that this liability had violated his right to freedom of expression.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, finding that the Supreme Court of Iceland had failed to strike a reasonable balance between the measures restricting the applicant’s freedom of expression, and the legitimate aim of protecting the reputation of others. In particular, the Court considered that the liability for defamation had not been necessary in a democratic society, given the circumstances of the case. The subject of the allegations had been standing for political office and should have anticipated public scrutiny
Haldimann and Others v. Switzerland 2015 This case concerned the conviction of four journalists for having recorded and broadcast an interview of a private insurance broker using a hidden camera, as part of a television documentary intended to denounce the misleading advice provided by insurance brokers. The applicants complained that their sentence to payment of fines had amounted to a disproportionate interference in their right to freedom of expression.
The Court held that, in the applicants’ case, there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, considering in particular that the interference in the private life of the broker, who had turned down an opportunity to express his views on the interview in question, had not been serious enough to override the public interest in information on malpractice in the field of insurance brokerage.
De Carolis and France Télévisions v. France 2016 concerned an accusation of defamation brought by Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal on account of a documentary on the France 3 television channel concerning complaints lodged by families of the victims of the 11 September 2001 attacks. The first applicant and the journalist who made the documentary were found guilty of public defamation against an individual, Prince Turki Al Faisal, who had joined the proceedings as a “civil party”. The TV channel France 3 was declared civilly liable for the damage caused. The applicants complained of a violation of their right to freedom of expression.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, finding, after a detailed examination, that the way in which the subject was dealt with did not contravene the standards of responsible journalism. In this case the Court observed in particular that the facts reported had concerned a subject of general interest. It further noted that Prince Turki Al Faisal held an eminent position in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and reiterated that the limits of permissible criticism were wider when it came to civil servants acting in a public capacity in the course of their official duties than in the case of ordinary private persons.
Bédat v. Switzerland 2016 (Grand Chamber) concerned the fining of a journalist for having published documents in breach of the confidentiality of the judicial investigation in criminal proceedings that had been brought against a driver who had been remanded in custody for crashing into a group of pedestrians, killing three and injuring a further eight, before jumping off a bridge.
The Court held that there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, finding that the penalty imposed on the applicant had been justified. It considered in particular that the publication of an article slanted in the way it had been at a time when the investigation was still ongoing comprised the inherent risk of influencing the conduct of proceedings which had in itself justified the adoption by the domestic authorities of deterrent measures, such as a ban on disclosing confidential information. The Court found that the penalty imposed on the journalist for violation of secrecy, geared to protecting the proper functioning of justice and the accused’s rights to a fair trial and respect for his private life, had not amounted to disproportionate interference in the exercise of his right to freedom of expression
Conviction for Insult
Nadtoka v. Russia 2016 concerned the criminal conviction, for insult, of a journalist and the editor-in- chief (the applicant) of the newspaper in which the offending article – which included the phrase “some thievish man from Altay who had taken up a comfortably high position” to refer to the mayor of Novocherkassk at the relevant time – had been published.
The Court held that there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention. It found in particular that the offending article had sought to complain of corruption on the part of the mayor of Novocherkassk. A subject of that type was a matter of public concern and discussion of it contributed to political debate. The Court pointed out that the authorities had enjoyed only particularly limited room for manoeuvre, and concluded that the interference complained of by the applicant had not been necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the reputation and rights of others.
Defamation of Institutions
Eker v. Turkey 2017 concerned the requirement for the applicant, a newspaper publisher, to print a reply correcting an article which he had written and published in his newspaper, in which he criticised the local journalists’ association, alleging that its actions contradicted its main objective and that it was no longer fit for its intended purpose.
The Court held that there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention. It found, in particular, that the domestic courts had struck a fair balance between the applicant’s right to freedom of expression and the right of the local journalists’ association to protection of its reputation. The Court considered that the reply had not overstepped the limits of admissible criticism and that the order to publish had been proportionate to the aim pursued, namely to protect the reputation and rights of others.
Frisk and Jensen v. Denmark 2017 concerned two Danish journalists working for a national television station and their conviction of defamation following a programme broadcast criticising the treatment of cancer at Copenhagen University Hospital. The Danish courts concluded that their programme had undisputedly given viewers the impression that malpractice had occurred at the hospital.
The Court held that there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, finding that the applicants’ defamation conviction had been justified. The Court agreed in particular with the Danish courts’ decisions, considering that they had struck a fair balance between the journalists’ right to freedom of expression and the hospital’s and the consultant’s right to protection of their reputation. In particular the Court saw no reason to call into question the domestic courts’ conclusion that the programme had been factually incorrect. It also agreed that those wrongful accusations, disseminated on primetime national television, had had considerable negative consequences, namely public mistrust in the chemotherapy used at the hospital.
Freitas Rangel v. Portugal 2022 concerned the conviction of the applicant, a very well-known journalist, for statements made about the professional bodies for judges and for public prosecutors at a hearing of a parliamentary committee. In particular, he had linked the judiciary and the prosecution service to, among other things, interference in politics and widespread breaches of confidentiality. He had been convicted and had had to pay 56,000 euros in fines and damages in total.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, finding that the domestic courts had failed to give adequate reasoning for their interference with the applicant’s free-speech rights, and that the interference had not been necessary in a democratic society. The Court reiterated, in particular, that the protection of the reputation of a legal entity did not have the same strength as the protection of the reputation or rights of individuals. The Court also found that the fine and the damages had been wholly disproportionate and had to have had a chilling effect on political discussion.