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ECHR Case law, Uncategorized

ECHR: Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, a.s. v. Slovakia n. 2 and 3

The European Court of Human Rights has issued another judgment against Slovakia stating that there had been a violation of freedom of expression. On 26.10.2011 in case Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, A.S. v. Slovakia (application no. 41262/05) held that the Courts violated right to freedom of speech and information when sanctioning a newspaper for alleging that a high-ranking police officer had been supporting a prominent politician while he was urinating in a public restaurant. Full judgement Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, A.S. v. Slovakia n. 1

In Chamber judgments from 7.1.2014 in the cases of Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, A.S. v. Slovakia (no.2) and Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, A.S. v. Slovakia (no.3) (application nos. 21666/09 and 37986/09), which are not final1, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights in both cases.

From the Press Release:

The cases concerned the liability of the applicant company for the content of certain articles published in Nový Čas, one of the most widely read newspapers in Slovakia. The first application concerned the applicant’s liability for publishing the identities of the victim of a car accident and the victim’s father. The second application concerned its liability for a separate series of articles which reported that a contestant on the quiz show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ was suspected of having cheated. The applicant claimed that, in both cases, finding the company liable had been arbitrary in particular because the Slovakian courts had focused exclusively on the protection of the claimants’ privacy, completely disregarding the company’s right to freedom of expression.

In both applications the Court held that the Slovakian courts had failed to examine the elements of the cases that they needed to consider – such as the context of the articles, whether they had been published in good faith, what was their aim, and whether there was a genuine public interest in their publication – in order to balance the newspaper’s right to freedom of expression against the claimants’ right to protection of privacy.

Principal facts

The applicant company, Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, a.s., is a multimedia publishing house set up in 1999 with its head office in Bratislava.

Both cases concern libel actions brought against the applicant company following the publication of articles by the national daily newspaper, Nový Čas, owned by the legal predecessor of Ringier.

In the first case, an article published in October 2001 told the story of an accident in a car park where a driver had hit a pedestrian, who later died from his injuries. The pedestrian was the son of a chief prosecutor in the local district, and the driver was detained following the incident. The article focused on the extensive time the Slovakian courts were taking to address the driver’s bail request.

However, it also contained the name of the chief prosecutor and that of his son. The prosecutor sued Ringier’s legal predecessor for libel, submitting that the article had caused him pain and distress. He succeeded, and in February 2005 a Slovakian court ordered the company to publish an apology and make a payment of 100,000 Slovak korunas (SKK) in damages (the equivalent of 1 Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.

Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution.

Further information about the execution process can be found here: www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/execution 2 around 2,600 euros (EUR) at that time). Ringier appealed the judgment in several proceedings, but it was ultimately unsuccessful, and its final application was dismissed in April 2009.

In the second case, Nový Čas published a series of articles in May 2004 about a man who had been a contestant on the television quiz “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” earlier that year. The contestant had answered 13 questions correctly, and had been playing for the equivalent of EUR 50,000 on the fourteenth question. However, he answered this question incorrectly, and he only won EUR 2,500. The articles in Nový Čas stated that there was a dispute between the organisers of the quiz and the contestant, the organisers claiming that the contestant had been suspected of having cheated using electronic communication and the contestant alleging that the fourteenth question had been ambiguous, and that he had in fact answered it correctly. In February 2005 the contestant launched a claim for libel against Ringier, arguing, among other things, that the Nový Čas articles had wrongly suggested that he was a cheat and had been charged with a criminal offence.

The contestant’s claim was successful, and the court ordered Ringier to publish an apology and pay the contestant the equivalent of EUR 1,450 in damages. The company appealed, but it was unsuccessful, and its last application was dismissed by the Slovakian Constitutional Court in February 2009.

Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), Ringer complained in both cases that the findings of libel by the Slovakian courts had been arbitrary and, in particular, that the courts had focused exclusively on the protection of the claimants’ privacy, completely disregarding its right to freedom of expression.

The application concerning the company’s liability for the article about the driving accident was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 14 April 2009. The application relating to the company’s liability for the ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ articles was lodged with the Court on 8 July 2009.

The full version of the judgment can be found:

http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/Pages/search.aspx#{“fulltext”:[“ringier”],”documentcollectionid2″:[“GRANDCHAMBER”,”CHAMBER”],”itemid”:[“001-139899”]}

http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/Pages/search.aspx#{“itemid”:[“001-105825”]}

Shrnutí v češtině:

Evropský soud pro lidská práva: Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, a.s. proti Slovensku č. 2 a 3 (21666/09 a 37986/09)

V rozsudcích Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, a.s. proti Slovensku č. 2 a 3 (21666/09 a 37986/09) ze dne 7.1.2014 Evropský soud pro lidská práva konstatoval porušení práva na svobodu projevu dle čl. 10 Úmluvy.

V prvním případu, stěžovatel, vydavatelství Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, a.s. (právní předchůdce) dne 24.10.2001 uveřejnil článek o dopravní nehodě, při níž zemřel chodec a řidič vozidla byl vzat do vazby. Otcem oběti byl státní zástupce Okresního státního zastupitelství. V článku bylo naznačeno, že způsobem vyšetřování bylo zasaženo do základních práv obviněného řidiče. V článku byla uveřejněna plná jména zúčastněných osob. V roce 2003 byla otcem oběti podána žaloba na ochranu osobnosti proti vydavateli. Soudy žalobě vyhověli, když konstatovaly, že žalobce byl osobou veřejně činnou, a proto musel strpět vyšší míru kritiky na svou osobu, ale nehoda s jeho funkcí nebyla spojena. Došlo tak k zásahu do jeho práv a byla mu přiznána omluva a náhrad nemajetkové újmy. Ústavní stížnost byla odmítnuta pro zjevnou neopodstatněnost.

Evropský soud pro lidská práva dospěl k závěru, že došlo k poručení čl. 10, když se neztotožnil se závěry národních soudů o tom, že zveřejnění jmen zúčastněných osob a žalobce, spolu s popisem nehody představoval neoprávněný zásah do osobnostních práv. Národní soudy nehodnotily kontext uveřejněného článku, který se týkal průběhu vyšetřování, dobrou víru stěžovatele a nepřihlédly k veřejnému zájmu.

Ve druhém případu, stěžovatel, vydavatelství Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, a.s. uveřejnil v květnu 2004 sérii článků o soutěžícím z televizní soutěže „Kdo chce být milionář?“ v deníku Nový Čas. Články informovaly údajném podvodu, když soutěží mohl používat elektronické zařízení ke komunikaci se svými blízkými a dále, že poslední otázka nebyla jednoznačná. Soutěžící – žalobce podal žalobu na ochranu osobnosti, které národní soudy vyhověly a přiznaly mu omluvu a náhradu nemajetkové újmy v penězích. Národní soudy konstatovaly zásah v podobě uveřejnění informace o podezření ze spáchání trestného činu a tvrzení, že podváděl. Ústavní soud stížnost odmítnul jako zjevně neopodstatněnou.

Evropský soud pro lidská práva dospěl k závěru, že došlo k poručení čl. 10, když zdůraznil povinnost národních soudů poměřovat právo žalobce s právem na svobodu projevu a provést tak test proporcionality mezi osobnostními právy a veřejným zájmem. Národní soudy tak opomněly hodnotit veřejný zájem, ve kterém článek byl uveřejněn a dále k dobré víře stěžovatele.

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Czech Attorney/Barrister located in Prague with specialization in media law and protection of personal rights

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