Full case report

Verein gegen Tierfabriken Schweiz (VgT) v Switzerland (No.2)

Reference Application no. 32772/02
Court European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber)

Judge Costa P, Rozakis, Tulkens, Casadevall, Birsan, Kovler, Gyulumyan, Mijovic, Popovic, Berro-Lefevre, Hirvela, Malinverni, Sajo, Bianku, Power, Poalelungi

Date of Judgment 30 Jun 2009


Summary

Freedom of Expression – Article 10 – Advertisements – Public interest – Political speech


Facts

The applicant association made a television commercial in reaction to the meat industry, which showed disturbing scenes relating to the rearing of pigs. The voiceover stated that the circumstances resembled concentration camps and that the animals were pumped full of medicaments. It ended “Eat less meat, for the sake of your health, the animals and the environment!” The Commercial Television Company refused to broadcast the commercial in view of its “clear political character”. The applicant applied to the ECHR which ruled on 28 June 2001 that the refusal by the Swiss authorities was a breach of the applicant’s Article 10 rights. However, despite the judgment, the Swiss authorities still refused to broadcast the advert. The applicant made a further application to the ECHR.


Issue

Whether the Swiss authorities refusal to broadcast the advert was a breach of the applicants Article 10 rights.


Held

Holding a violation of Article 10:

(a) There is little scope under Art 10(2) for restrictions on political speech or on debates of questions of public interest. The television commercial concerned battery pig-farming and related to consumer health and animal and environmental protection, which were matters undeniably in the public interest.

(b) The interference in issue was not necessary in a democratic society because the authorities had not demonstrated why the general prohibition on political advertising could justify the interference in this particular case. Moreover, prior restraints on publication entail such dangers that they call for the most public scrutiny.

(c) That the public interest in dissemination of a publication does not necessarily decrease with the passing of time and the authorities had not shown that after the judgment of June 2001, the circumstances had changed to such an extent as to cast doubt on the validity of the courts original finding.


Comment

A useful reiteration of the general principles underlying Article 10 of the Convention. Particularly interesting was the Courts observations on the necessary protection of offensive or disturbing material. It stated that the authorities argument that the broadcasting of the commercial would be seen as unpleasant by consumers or meat traders could not justify its continued prohibition. Freedom of expression if applicable not only to information and ideas that are inoffensive or favourably received, but also extends to material that offends, shocks or disturbs. The Court emphasised that such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there is no democratic society.


Download this Judgment