Fedchenko v Russia (No 2)
Reference: Application no. 48195/06
Court: European Court of Human Rights (First Section)
Judge: Rozakis P, Vajic, Kovler, Hajiyev, Speilmann, Jebens, Nicolaou
Date of judgment: 11 Feb 2010
Defamation - Human rights - Article 10, European Convention on Human Rights
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The Applicant, Fedchenko, was the founder and editor of the weekly newspaper Bryanskiye, which in 2005 published an article criticising the educational system in the Bryansk region, and in particular the head of the regional Department of Education, Mr Geraschenkov (‘the Plaintiff’). The article stated that despite significant spending for education in the region, many boarding school pupils were social misfits and that the money was not spent for its designated purpose. The Plaintiff brought defamation proceedings against the Applicant (and the authors of the article) claiming that several passages were untrue and damaging to his reputation. At first instance the court granted the claims and ordered the Applicant to pay damages, costs and court fees, and to publish the operative part of the judgment in the newspaper. On appeal, the regional court quashed the order to pay the court fees but upheld the remainder of the judgment.
Whether the decisions against the Applicant violated his rights under Article 10 of the ECHR
Finding a violation of Article 10:
The Plaintiff was the head of the Bryansk Department of education. Civil servants acting in an official capacity are, like politicans, subject to wider limits of acceptable criticism than a private individual. He was therefore obliged to display a greater degree of tolerance and to tolerate a significant amount of public criticism. The subject matter of publication was the state of the educational system in the Bryansk Region and thus formed part of a debate on a matter of general public concern. The domestic courts failed to establish any pressing social need for putting the plaintiff’s personality rights above the applicant’s rights and general interest in promoting the freedom of press where issues of public interest are concerned.
Along similar lines to the recent ECHR decision in Kubaszewski v Poland, this decision extends the "greater degree of tolerance" that politicians are required to display to civil servants. There is presently no such requirement as a matter of English law and to that extent there is scope for argument that domestic law is at odds with the ECHR jurisprudence.