Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohus
17.12.2004

Facts

The applicants, Mr. Pedersen and Mr. Baadsgaard, were journalists who produced programs about the trial of X, a person sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of murdering his wife. In one of the episodes the applicants stated that the Chief Superintendent most likely is responsible for suppressing the testimony of a witness which is a crime itself. After the episodes, the Chief Superintendent reported the applicants to the police for defamation, and the applicants were later convicted for defamation and sentenced to pay compensation to him. In the meantime, the case was reopened and X was acquitted. The national courts found that the applicants lacked a sufficient factual basis for the allegation that the Chief Superintendent had deliberately suppressed a vital piece of evidence in the murder case.

Complaint

The applicants alleged that the Danish court’s judgment disproportionately interfered with their right to freedom of expression, as their allegations could not be seen as factual statements whose truthfulness they shall prove.

Court's ruling

The Court ruled that the applicants lacked a sufficient factual basis for their statements, therefore their freedom of expression had not been violated.

The Court emphasized that a distinction needs to be made between statements of fact and value judgments. While the existence of facts can be demonstrated, the truth of value judgments are impossible to prove. The Court further found that the accusation against the Chief Superintendent was an allegation of fact. Thus the Court examined whether the applicants acted in good faith and complied with the ordinary journalistic obligation to verify a factual allegation. By doing so the Court found that the applicants did not havea sufficient factual basis to accuse the Chief Superintendent:

  • The applicants drew their own conclusions from the statements of the witness, therefore they were themselves the authors of the allegations of facts.
  • They relied on just one witness, who had never asserted that a report containing her statement had been suppressed deliberately, and, moreover, by the Chief Superintendent.
  • The applicants also did not check whether there was an objective basis for the witness’s timing of events.
  • The accusation was very serious and would have entailed criminal prosecution had it been true.
  • The applicants never endeavored to provide any justification for their allegation.