ECtHR accepts strict application of data protection law and narrow interpretation of journalistic activity in Finland

By Dirk Voorhoof, Ghent University

After proceedings at the national level during eight years, and after a preliminary ruling by the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg on 16 December 2008 (Case C-73/07), the European Court of Human Rights (Fourth section) in Strasbourg has delivered a controversial judgment in the domain of protection of personal data and data journalism. In Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy and Satamedia Oy v. Finland, the Court comes to the conclusion that a prohibition issued by the Finnish Data Protection Board that prohibited two media companies (further: Satamedia) from publishing personal data in the manner and to the extent they had published these data before, is to be considered as a legal, legitimate and necessary interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression and information.

The European Court agrees with the Finnish authorities that the applicants could not rely on the exception of journalistic activities within the law of protection of personal data. In finding no violation of the right to freedom of expression and information, the Court not only accepts a restrictive interpretation of the notion of journalistic activity, it also reduces drastically the impact of the right to information of public interest.

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Delfi AS v. Estonia: Grand Chamber confirms liability of online news portal for offensive comments posted by its readers

By Dirk Voorhoof, Ghent University

On 16 June 2015 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has delivered the long awaited final judgment in the case of Delfi AS v. Estonia, deciding on the liability of an online news portal for the offensive comments posted by its readers below one of its online news articles. The Grand Chamber has come to the conclusion that the Estonian courts’ finding of liability against Delfi had been a justified and proportionate restriction on the news portal’s freedom of expression, in particular because the comments in question had been extreme and had been posted in reaction to an article published by Delfi on its professionally managed news portal run on a commercial basis. Furthermore the steps taken by Delfi to remove the offensive comments without delay after their publication had been insufficient and the 320 euro award of damages that Delfi was obliged to pay to the plaintiff was by no means excessive for Delfi, one of the largest internet portals in Estonia.

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“A great victory for the whole legal profession”

by Inger Høedt-Rasmussen (Copenhagen University) and Dirk Voorhoof (Ghent University)

The Grand Chamber in its judgment of 23 April 2015 in the case of Morice v. France has overruled an earlier finding of non-violation of the right to freedom of expression of a lawyer (Chamber judgment Fifth Section, 11 July 2013). The Grand Chamber found that the applicant lawyer in the newspaper Le Monde had expressed value judgments with a sufficient factual basis and that his remarks concerning a matter of public interest had not exceeded the limits of the right to freedom of expression. Therefore it considered the lawyer’s conviction for defamation of two investigative judges as a breach of Article 10 of the Convention. The Grand Chamber’s judgment defines in an interesting way the role and responsibilities of lawyers in relation to society and in relation to their clients and to the administration of justice. It emphasises that lawyers, although being in a role that differs from the role of journalists, should be able to draw the public’s attention to potential shortcomings in the justice system. In a first reaction in Le Monde, Morice (the applicant) called the judgment “une grande victoire pour l’ensemble de la profession des avocats”.

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EU Review Wrongly and Superficially Applies ECtHR Precedent on Whistleblowing

By Flutura Kusari

The report drawn up by law professor Jean Paul Jacqué that reviews EULEX’s handling of the whistleblowing case of Maria Bamieh (briefly explained below) reveals that European Union institution employees reporting irregularities do not enjoy protection under the right to freedom of expression. The expert’s narrow and wrong interpretation of whistleblowing protection could discourage other EU employees from voicing their concerns on matters of public interest. Continue reading

Can the right to freedom of expression justify the reporting about Monaco’s reigning monarch’s illegitimate child?

By Dirk Voorhoof

Today, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR held a hearing in the case of Couderc and Hachette Filipacchi Associés v. France (App. no. 40454/07). The hearing is webcasted and can be viewed on the Court’s website, here. The case concerns the right of privacy and reputation of Monaco’s reigning monarch conflicting with the right to freedom of expression of the French magazine Paris-Match.

Years after French, German and English media revealed that Monaco’s reigning monarch, Prince Albert II, had a child born outside marriage, the European Court needs to decide now whether the measures taken against the French magazine Paris-Match are to be considered interferences violating the right to freedom of expression. The case started when the child’s mother, Ms C, gave interviews to the media saying that she was living in the prince’s Paris apartment and that she received an allowance from him, as being the mother of his illegitimate child. French, German and English media published the interviews along with photographs showing the child as well as Prince Albert. He sued Paris-Match for invasion of privacy, and the French courts considered that the article and the accompanying pictures in Paris-Match came within the most intimate sphere of the Prince’s emotional and family life and were not apt to be the subject of any debate of general interest. According to the French courts the article and pictures in Paris-Match had caused irreversible damage to the Prince, as the fact that he was the child’s father, which had remained secret until publication of the article, had suddenly become public knowledge, against his wishes. Prince Albert II was awarded 50,000 euros (EUR) in damages and Paris-Match was ordered to print details of the judgment on its front cover. In the meantime the Prince had issued a statement in which he publicly acknowledged that the child was his.

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Response to comment on Rubins v. Latvia: adjudication is not erroneous at all

By Dirk Voorhoof, Ghent University

I disagree with the analysis of and the comments on the Rubins v. Latvia judgment by Elena Sychenko, posted on 13 April 2015 on Strasbourg Observers, finding that the judgment is an example of an erroneous adjudication and is granting protection to blackmailing. I consider the judgment a well balanced and transparently motivated example of scrutinizing by the ECtHR of a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of expression of an employee, in this case of a university professor expressing sharp criticism on the employer’s policy and management.

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Rubins v. Latvia: Does Article 10 ECHR Protect Blackmailers?

This guest blog post was written by Elena Sychenko, Ph.D. student at the University of Catania, Law Faculty, Labour Law Department.

The recent case of Rubins v. Latvia has received much attention from lawyers. Commentators assumed that the Court established a protection of employees not covered by whistle-blowing provisions[1]  and believed that the Court contributed one more time to the protection of democratic values.[2] However, it will be argued that the Rubins judgment is not in line with famous whistle-blowing cases[3] but provides an example of erroneous adjudication and grants protection to blackmailing.

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