Fico drops cartoon lawsuit

A NEWSPAPER cartoon featuring a nervous man in a giant red tie being told by his physician that since his x-ray shows he has no spine his cervical spine problems are only “phantom pains” attracted wide fame after Prime Minister Robert Fico in 2009 sued the daily newspaper which printed it, arguing that the author, Martin Šútovec, who draws under the name Shooty, was making fun of his serious medical condition. Four years on, Fico has decided to withdraw the lawsuit, in which he was demanding €33,000 in damages. Fico’s spokesperson Erik Tomáš confirmed to the Sme daily that Fico had instructed his legal representative to end the case.

Martin "Shooty" ŠútovecMartin "Shooty" Šútovec(Source: SME)

A NEWSPAPER cartoon featuring a nervous man in a giant red tie being told by his physician that since his x-ray shows he has no spine his cervical spine problems are only “phantom pains” attracted wide fame after Prime Minister Robert Fico in 2009 sued the daily newspaper which printed it,
arguing that the author, Martin Šútovec, who draws under the name Shooty, was making fun of his serious medical condition. Four years on, Fico has decided to withdraw the lawsuit, in which he was demanding €33,000 in damages. Fico’s spokesperson Erik Tomáš confirmed to the Sme daily that Fico had instructed his legal representative to end the case.

“There are two possibilities. One is that he is afraid of the ruling and the second is that he started liking me,” Šútovec responded, as quoted by Sme on March 13.

The libel action was one of a long list of lawsuits which resulted in the country’s courts awarding over €300,000 in damages to public officials in civil cases brought against publishers and other media during 2009 alone.

“A cartoon published in such a way clearly benefits from serious impairment of my health, and makes fun of this impairment,” Fico argued in the lawsuit, as quoted by Sme.

At the time, Sme’s editor-in-chief, Matúš Kostolný, responded in a commentary that the cartoon is in fact the freest of all journalistic genres and that “Fico either does not have a sense of humour or a sense for freedom of expression. Otherwise he would not have sued this daily over a cartoon”.

The district and regional courts rejected Fico’s lawsuit, after which the prime minister filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.

“The depiction of the plaintiff without a cervical spine expressed a satirical and ridiculing picture of the plaintiff’s features as a politician, thus the cartoon was related to his public position and did not ridicule his then-health status,” one judge wrote in a decision rejecting the suit, adding that at the time the cartoon was published Fico was a publicly-known person serving as prime minister and the chairman of the strongest political party and for that reason he was “obliged to bear a greater amount of criticism”, Sme reported.

Fico’s decision to withdraw the suit comes after he had succeeded in a special appeal to the Supreme Court, which returned the cartoon lawsuit to the regional court over a procedural fault in which the courts had failed to deliver a document to Fico, according to Sme.

The Supreme Court did not comment on the legal merit of the case, according to Sme’s lawyer, Tomáš Kamenec, adding that it would not be a problem to fix the shortcoming identified.

The 2009 lawsuit came at a time when Fico repeatedly described the press as a “new opposition force” that was biased and was harming national and state interests. Fico also accused the press of failing to “stand behind the common people”.

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