On 9 February 2017, the European Court of Human Rights handed down an important judgment in Selmani and Ors v. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Application No. 67259/14), a case that considers the forcible removal of journalists from a parliamentary press gallery. The Court’s finding that the removal was a violation of the right to freedom of expression is a valuable pronouncement in a global context where a number of states have used similar measures to suppress reporting on parliamentary affairs.
By Stijn Smet
A few weeks ago, a Section of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Armenian government had not exceeded its margin of appreciation by summarily dismissing senior civil servants who had voiced critical remarks on the democratic nature of the 2008 presidential elections in Armenia. The Court’s view on the need for a ‘politically neutral body of civil servants’ in its Karapetyan and Others v. Armenia judgment is worrying. It risks demoting senior civil servants to mere lackeys of the executive, impeding them from playing a potentially vital role in defending democracy and the rule of law.
Guest post by M. Schaap-Rubio Imbers, PhD Candidate international public law, Erasmus School of Law
On the 8th of November 2016, the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber delivered its judgment in Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v Hungary. The applicant NGO (Magyar Helsinki Bizottság) complained that the refusal of police departments to disclose information on the appointment of public defenders upon their request represented a breach of its rights as set out in article 10 ECHR. The Court held by fifteen votes to two that there has indeed been a violation of article 10. This judgment is the latest ruling on access to public interest information, and as such a very welcome elaboration of the Court’s position on the right of access to public interest information under article 10 ECHR.
Considering that others have already provided a good overview of the background and what is at stake in this judgement (here) and provided a general discussion of the case at hand (here), in this contribution I will focus particularly on the criteria established by the Court for access to public interest information under article 10 ECHR.
By Ronan Ó Fathaigh
The European Court’s Fourth Section has held in Ziembiński v. Poland (No. 2) that a newspaper editor’s conviction for describing local government officials as “dim-witted” and a “numbskull” violated the editor’s Article 10 right to freedom of expression. The judgment may prove decisive for future prosecutions of journalists under article 216(2) of Poland’s criminal code, which makes it a specific offence to “insult” a person “through the mass media,” and carries a possible one-year prison sentence. Tragically, however, the editor, Maciej Ziembiński, passed away two years ago aged 70, and did not live to see the Court’s finding that his conviction violated the European Convention.
By Ronan Ó Fathaigh
The European Court’s Fourth Section has held that a successful civil action by a newspaper against a Polish politician for alleging the newspaper had an “agreement” with an oil corporation to finance the newspaper’s “mass propaganda” against his political party, violated the politician’s freedom of expression. The opinion in Kurski v. Poland dealt with the unusual, but not rare, situation when a newspaper launches defamation proceedings against a politician for damaging its reputation, and the broader issue of ordering publication of apologies.
By Pieter Cannoot, academic assistant and doctoral researcher of constitutional law (Ghent University)
On 23 June 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held that Hungary violated the right of access to a court (article 6, §1 ECHR) and the freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR) of András Baka, the former President of the Hungarian Supreme Court (now: Kúria). Several constitutional and legislative reforms led to the early termination of Mr. Baka’s mandate, expelling the critical judge from the highest office in the Hungarian judiciary, without providing any possibility for judicial review. The judgement is only the latest episode in a series of worldwide condemnations of Hungary’s new constitutional and human rights reality.
By Dirk Voorhoof and Daniel Simons
Investigative journalism sometimes operates at the limits of the law. This is especially true of what could be called ‘check it out’ journalism: reporting in which a journalist tests how effective a law or procedure is by attempting to circumvent it. A recent decision shows that those who commit (minor) offences during this type of newsgathering activity cannot count on (major) support from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Journalists of the Swedish newspaper Expressen had undertaken to demonstrate the easy availability of illegal firearms by purchasing one. The Swedish courts were of the opinion that the editor and the journalists could not be exempted from criminal liability as they had wilfully breached the Swedish Weapons Act. In a unanimous decision, the ECtHR confirmed the necessity of the journalists’ criminal conviction. It declared the application for alleged breach of the right of journalistic newsgathering under Article 10 of the Convention manifestly ill-founded. Coming after the Grand Chamber’s judgment in Pentikäinen v. Finland (see our blog here) and in Bédat v. Switzerland (see our blog here), the decision in Salihu and others v. Sweden can be perceived as a new step in downsizing the rights of journalists with regard to their newsgathering activities. The Court’s ruling may also have a chilling effect on undercover investigative reporting.