The applicant, Mr. Jersild, was a journalist who conducted and edited a radio interview with a group of young people about their racist views. During the interview the interviewees made many abusive and derogatory statements about immigrants and ethnic groups in Denmark. Following the broadcast of the interview, Mr. Jersild was charged and convicted of the offence of aiding and abetting the dissemination of racist statements. He was sentenced to a fine.
The applicant maintained that his conviction and sentence for having aided and abetted the dissemination of racist remarks violated his right to freedom of expression.
The Court ruled that the punishment of Mr. Jersild was not necessary to protect the reputation or rights of others and thus had violated his freedom of expression.
The Court ruled that the interference with the freedom of expression of Mr. Jersild was prescribed by the Danish law and it pursued a legitimate aim - protection of the reputation or rights of others. States are obliged to take effective measures to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination and to prevent racist practices.
However, the Danish courts had not struck the right balance between journalistic freedom and the legitimate aim:
The purpose of the interview was to identify certain racist individuals and portray and explain their mentality and social background, it did not serve for the propagation of racist views and ideas.
The interview did not explicitly recall the immorality, dangers and unlawfulness of the promotion of racial hatred and of ideas of superiority of one race.
The context, namely, recent public discussion and press comments on racism in Denmark, had to been taken into account.
Mr. Jersild’s conduct during the interviews clearly dissociated him from the persons interviewed - he did not make the statements himself but only assisted in their dissemination in his capacity as a journalist.
The punishment of a journalist for assisting in the dissemination of statements made by another person would seriously hamper the contribution of the press to discussion of matters of public interest, and the national courts had not given particularly strong reasons for the necessity of the punishment.