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Strasbourg Human Rights Court overrules Slovak decision against publisher

Slovak courts violated a publisher’s right to freedom of expression and information when they ordered a correction and compensation to be paid, the European Court of Human Rights ruled, according to the International Press Institute (IPI). On July 26, a seven-judge panel unanimously overruled a decision against Bratislava-based multimedia publishing company, Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, citing a failure to examine whether the stories were written in good faith and in accordance with journalistic ethics.

Slovak courts violated a publisher’s right to freedom of expression and information when they ordered a correction and compensation to be paid, the European Court of Human Rights ruled, according to the International Press Institute (IPI). On July 26, a seven-judge panel unanimously overruled a decision against Bratislava-based multimedia publishing company, Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, citing a failure to examine whether the stories were written in good faith and in accordance with journalistic ethics.

The reports depicted a high-ranking police official’s alleged drunken public behaviour. Former Police Vice-President Jozef Petráš sued the publisher’s predecessor for libel over a series of reports in the print and online editions of the Slovak tabloid Nový čas describing a 1999 incident at a restaurant involving Petráš and Ján Slota, MP and Žilina Mayor at that time as well as the chair of the Slovak National Party. Tipped off, the newspaper reporter observed the two men for about 10 minutes before they left. He had interviews with witnesses who claimed Slota was extremely drunk and urinated off the restaurant’s terrace with Petráš’s assistance.

A Slovak court found that the publisher had not shown that the information in the reports was truthful. In a decision upheld on appeal, the Slovak court noted that the reporter had not actually seen Slota urinating and it ruled that the public official’s interest in having his private life respected prevailed over the public’s interest in the incident. The court then granted Petráš’s request for a correction and apology and awarded compensation of €23,000, although the amount was later halved on appeal.

The court in Strasbourg concluded that the national court’s decision violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and faulted a failure to assess the level of public interest in the articles or to balance it against the individual interests, the International Press Institute (IPI) informed The Slovak Spectator.

The Strasbourg judges opined that although Slovak courts (the lower-instance court as well as the appellate court) had made reference to the journalist’s good faith and the presence of a public interest, they failed to take evidence or to make an analysis, or draw specific conclusions from these.

Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
The Slovak Spectator cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information presented in its Flash News postings.

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