Reference: Application No. 5380/07
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Judge: Tulkens P, Barreto, Jociene, Sajo, Tsotsoria, Karakas
Date of judgment: 1 Dec 2009
Summary: Defamation - Human Rights - Article 10, ECHR - Comment
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The Applicant, Karsai, was a Hungarian historian and university professor. In 2004 there was a public debate in Hungary as to whether a statue should be set up to commemorate former Prime Minister Pál Teleki, who had cooperated with Nazi Germany and had been involved in the passing of anti-Semitic legislation. The Applicant published an article on the subject criticising the right-wing press, including BT, for praising the politician’s role and for making anti-Semitic statements. BT brought a civil action against the applicant, claiming that his reputation had been harmed by a passage in the article that could be referred to him and included the expression “bashing the Jews”. At first instance the Court rejected the claim holding that the impugned statement did not concern BT himself but rather the right-wing media. The decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal. The Applicant complained that the decisions amounted to a violation of Article 10 ECHR.
Whether the decisions against the Applicant violated Article 10 of the ECHR
(1) Where a statement amounts to a value judgment, the proportionality of an interference may depend on whether there exists a sufficient factual basis for the impugned statement, since even a value judgment without any factual basis to support it may be excessive;
(2) The finding that the statement concerned a pure statement of fact was incorrect. The statement was not excessive or devoid of factual basis;
(3) The publication deserves the high level of protection granted to the press in view of its functions;
(4) There is little scope under Article 10(2) for restrictions on political speech or on the debate of questions of public interest.
This decision is a reminder that comment will be protected under Article 10 so long as there is a sufficient factual basis, and that that protection extends to what might be considered very harsh criticism, at least in a political context.