THE BONANNO case has moved forward at the Bratislava II District Court with the testimony of Peter Mertus, the board director of Ringier Axel Springer, which faces eight lawsuits in connection with the case, with the plaintiffs seeking a total of €940,000 in damages. Mertus testified as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by the current acting general prosecutor Ladislav Tichý against his publishing house.
All of the photographs that the daily published with the stories about the Bonanno party are authentic, according to the expert report of the Criminalist Institute of the Czech Police, which was submitted to the court by the defendant, as reported by the Sme daily. This came in response to the expert report provided by the plaintiff, which claimed that one of the photographs had been modified.
Bonanno party and the case
In a lawsuit against the Nový Čas tabloid daily, several judges and a senior prosecutor who attended a party which they dubbed the Judiciary Oscars Association at the Bonanno bar in Rajecké Teplice, object to Nový Čas’ interpretation of photographs taken at the party, which appeared to link it to a tragic event that took place two months earlier.
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.
The Judiciary Oscars Association met two months after the shooting spree in October 2010, and in June 2011 Nový Čas published images from the party of retired judge Tibor Péchy sporting blue ear defenders and carrying an imitation assault rifle, plus video footage of the meeting. In a case filed this year, the judges and senior prosecutor are objecting to associations between the images from the Bonanno bar and the mass murderer, arguing that there was no mimicking of Harman. They also claim the photographs were modified and falsified.
One of the judges, Supreme Court Justice Štefan Michálik, who is seeking €100,000 in compensation from Nový Čas, alleges that the articles about the meeting at the Bonanno bar could have been politically motivated. Michálik said that at the time the reports were published there was what he called a witch-hunt against judges and that the election of the general prosecutor was also taking place, SITA reported.
Mertus: the article was in public interest
“I had no objections to the article,” Mertus told the court, as quoted by Sme. “I am sure that as a publishing house we didn’t violate anything.”
Mertus did not specify who the author of the Bonanno articles was, and he declined to answer most of the questions that he was asked during the court hearing, saying that assigning the stories to reporters and editing them for print are the duties of the editor-in-chief and not his, according to Sme.
Mertus, however, stressed that publishing the articles was in the public interest, “since the articles concerned representatives of the Slovak judiciary”.
“This article was written with the deeper background to harm the good reputation of the Slovak judiciary and it did have a political background too,” Tichý said, accusing the Nový Čas tabloid daily of having manipulated the situation “by adding the photo of Harman to the picture from our meeting”.
Tichý said he was demanding an apology rather than financial compensation.
Press freedom concerns
The Slovak committee of the International Press Institute (IPI) has expressed deep concern over what it calls growing pressure by courts, judges and the judiciary in general on the freedom of press guaranteed by the constitution of Slovakia.
According to IPI Slovensko, in the Bonanno case journalists are being accused of exposing inappropriate behaviour by judges and prosecutors who acted at odds with the code of judicial ethics.
The Bonanno case was also cited in the report to the Permanent Council of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) submitted by the organisation’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović. The report, submitted on June 13, covers the period from November 30, 2012 through the present.
“I hope that the discussions that have already started in Slovakia about the need to decriminalise libel and defamation will soon lead to this very important reform, and that a cap on damages will be set in civil defamation cases,” Mijatović wrote in her report, adding that “large damage awards can lead to an outlet’s bankruptcy and may induce self censorship, thus diminishing the existing media pluralism in Slovakia”.
22. Jul 2013 at 0:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff