THE ORGANISATION for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has sharply criticised the first verdict of the Bratislava District Court in the Bonanno case, in which the Nový Čas tabloid daily was ordered to apologise to Supreme Court Judge Daniel Hudák for harming his personal integrity.
The daily will have to publish the apology on the first page with a headline the same size as the headlines of the original articles, the SITA newswire reported.

“This ruling may have a chilling effect on media freedom as it restricts reporting on matters of public interest,” said Dunja Mijatović, OSCE representative for the media, in an OSCE press release. “International standards call for public officials to endure a higher threshold of criticism by the public, including members of the media.”

The Bonanno case encompasses a series of lawsuits that Ringier Axel Springer, the publisher of Nový Čas, faces in connection with publishing photos from a private meeting of prominent lawyers and judges, dubbed the Judiciary Oscars Association, in the Bonanno bar in Rajecké Teplice in autumn 2010. A total of €1.8 million in damages is being sought in the lawsuits.

The daily reported in June 2012 that retired lawyer Tibor Péchy came to the meeting with a replica of a machine gun and a pair of blue ear defenders. Back in late August 2010, Ľubomír Harman, a 48-year-old man wearing blue ear defenders and armed with an assault rifle, shot dead seven people before killing himself in Devínska Nová Ves.

Members of the Judiciary Oscars Association are objecting to associations made between the images from the meeting at the Bonanno bar and the mass murderer, arguing that there was no mimicking of Harman.

The district court will decide on the financial damages sought by Hudák, who is demanding €100,000 from the publisher, once the regional court upholds the verdict, according to SITA.

Mijatović has criticised this approach.

“Fines which can lead to a media outlet’s bankruptcy or may induce self-censorship for journalists and publishers are disproportionate and unacceptable, ” Mijatović said in a press release. “This ruling could contribute to diminishing media pluralism in Slovakia.”