Full case report

Busuioc v Moldova

Reference (2006) 42 EHRR 252
Court European Court of Human Rights

Judge Bratza (President), Pellonpää, Casadevall, Maruste, Pavlovschi, Borrego Borrego, and Fura-Sandström (Judges), and O'Boyle (Section Registrar)

Date of Judgment 21 Dec 2004


Summary

Human Rights – Defamation – Libel – Article – ECHR – Freedom of Expression – Damages awarded against journalist for defamation – Whether interference with Art 10 right prescribed by law – Whether interference necessary in a democratic society


Facts

The applicant, a journalist, wrote an article in a weekly newspaper criticising the management at an international airport. Six employees of the airport brought actions for defamation against the journalist and the newspaper. The District Court found that the article was inaccurate and defamatory of the complainants and awarded them damages. On appeal to the Regional Court, one employees’ claim was dismissed, and the damages to be paid reduced. A further appeal was dismissed. The applicant appealed to the ECHR, claiming that his Art 10 rights had been infringed.


Issue

(1) Whether the judgment and award of damages against the applicant was prescribed by law, so as to be consistent with Art 10;
(2) Whether the judgment and award of damages against the applicant were necessary in a democratic society, so as to be consistent with Art 10.


Held

Finding violations of Article 10:
(1) The relevant provisions of the Moldovan Civil Code were not so vague as to render the decision and award unforseeable and therefore they had been prescribed by law.
(2) While it may be necessary to protect public servants from defamatory attacks (Janowski v Poland), the complainants here were not in law enforcement or prosecution, and the issue was one of public interest. The Court considered each allegation separately: the judgments against the applicant were necessary only in relation to the allegations which were statements of fact and untrue. Judgements against the applicant for value judgments, true factual statements and a factual statement the truth of which the applicant was not given an effective opportunity to prove were not necessary in a democratic society. As the award was at the lower end of the scale, and having regard to the average monthly salary, the award of damages was not excessive.


Comment

The European Court of Human Rights draws a sharp distinction between statements of fact and value judgments. Any liability for publishing value judgments which have at least some factual basis, as was the case with some of the statements here, will almost inevitably infringe Article 10. As to factual statements, journalists must be given an effective opportunity to prove their truth, and a failure to allow this will also amount to a violation of Article 10. Perhaps surprisingly, the damages award of 10 times the average monthly salary was not found to have been excessive.


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