Full case report

Alitha Publishing Ltd & Constantinides v Cyprus

Reference Application No 17550/03
Court European Court of Human Rights

Judge Rozakis P, Vajic, Hajiyev, Spielmann, Jebens, Malinverni, and Nicolatos

Date of Judgment 22 May 2008


Summary

Defamation – Article 10 – Reynolds privilege – Responsible journalism – Justification – Fair comment – Qualified privilege – Burdens of proof – Article 8


Facts

The applicants published a series of articles about the Cypriot defence minister between 1992 and 1993 alleging a conspiracy to defraud public funds. An article by the second applicant further alleged disclosure of classified national security information by the minister and that he had planted a bomb to target the second applicant. Defamation proceedings were brought in the District Court of Nicosia and succeeded. Defences of justification and fair comment were dismissed. The second applicant was found to be an unreliable witness. General and exemplary damages were awarded. The Supreme Court upheld the judgment, also finding that a defence based on Reynolds v Times Newspapers had not been properly raised at first instance but would not have succeeded. The applicants appeal to the ECHR was based on violation of Article 10.


Issue

Whether the interference with the applicants’ Article 10 rights was prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society


Held

Finding no violation of Article 10,
(1) The interference had a basis in national law, namely the Cypriot Law on Civil Wrongs and, in spite of the discretion to be exercised in view of the various responsible journalism criteria, was sufficiently certain. Equally there was no reason to disturb the findings of the District and Supreme Courts as to the quality of evidence and standards of responsible journalism. Nor did the relevant burdens of proof under domestic law offend Article 10.
(2) The interferences was necessary to achieve a legitimate aim. Grave allegations could not be substantiated or defended. The relevant domestic law provisions were not in any way incompatible with the Convention requirements. They merely reflected the Court’s case-law concerning the duties and responsibilities of the press.


Comment

This Article 10 application has been dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights with a reminder of the ‘duties and responsibilities’ inherent in the exercise of freedom of expression. The court reiterated the importance of verifying the most serious defamatory allegations and attempting to obtain comment in those circumstances. Arguments by the applicants that the protection of qualified privilege should extend to all public interest reports concerning politicians were disregarded.