The applicants, a newspaper company AS Diena and a journalist Mr. Ozoliņš, published several articles accusing the Minister of Economic Affairs of abuse of authority and bribery in connection with the privatization of the company AS Ventspils nafta. The Minister brought proceedings in the court complaining of defamation and seeking an award of damages against the applicants. The court ordered the applicant company to pay the Minister compensation and ordered retraction of four of the seven articles published in the newspaper Diena, as well as payment of damages.
The applicants complained that the order requiring payment of damages violated their freedom of expression.
The Court ruled that by publishing the articles the applicants had not overstepped the bounds of journalistic freedom and thus the restriction had violated the applicants’ freedom of expression.
The Court emphasized that the applicants had exercised the role of a “watchdog” which the press performs in a democratic society. That role entails a duty to alert the public where the press is informed about presumed misappropriation on the part of politicians. As the articles concerned the Minister who is a public figure, the limits of acceptable criticism were wider than in the case of a private individual. Moreover, Mr. Ozoliņš in the articles expressed his value judgment by drawing his own conclusions that the Minister has abused his powers. Such conclusions about other persons’ intentions and motives are not facts the existence of which could be demonstrated. Thus no further clarifications were needed to be provided by Mr.Ozoliņš.