Europapress Holding D.O.O v Croatia
Reference: Application no. 25333/06
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Judge: Rozakis P, Vajic, Hajiyev, Spielmann, Jebens, Malinverni, Nicolaou
Date of judgment: 22 Oct 2009
Summary: Freedom of expression - Article 10 - Defamation - Whether interference "necessary in a democratic society" - Proportionality
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The Minister of Finance brought defamation proceedings against the applicant publishing company in respect of an article which alleged that the Minister had made a highly inappropriate joke by pointing a gun at a journalist while saying the he would kill her. The Municipal Court partially granted the Minister’s claim, ordering the applicant to pay HRK 60,000 (around 8,000 euros), and holding that the article had been untrue and not properly verified. The applicant’s appeal to the Constitutional Court was dismissed. The applicant appealed to the ECtHR challenging the assessment of the evidence and the standard of proof used by the domestic courts. It argued that the courts had imposed an impossible standard of proof, which seriously jeopardised the pre-eminent role and function of the press in a democratic society, and that it had made sufficient steps to verify the information and acted in accordance with journalistic rules.
Whether the decision of the domestic courts had unjustifiably violated Article 10 of the European Convention.
Finding no violation of Art 10:
(1) The article contained specific allegations of fact concerning a named individual which were susceptible to proof and the applicant could have expected that it would be required to prove their veracity.
(2) The standard of proof applied by the domestic courts was not unreasonable or impossible in the circumstances. Even on the applicant’s evidence, the most it could have said was that “the handgun had been in the hands of the Minister”. The applicant had not sufficiently demonstrated that the published information was true.
(3) Considering the serious nature of the allegations, the journalist had not taken sufficient steps to verify the article. There was no evidence that she had attempted to contact the Minister or other witnesses. The journalist was not a sufficiently reliable source of information to a degree that no further verification was necessary.
(4) The damages awarded were proportionate.
Requiring a publisher to prove a statement of fact to be true to a reasonable standard of proof does not contravene Art 10.