The applicants, Mr. Cumpănă and Mr. Mazăre, were journalists by profession. They published an article in the local newspaper questioning the legality of a contract of City Council with a particular commercial company. The article was accompanied by a cartoon showing the former legal adviser of City Council, Mrs R.M., on the former deputy mayor’s arm, carrying a bag containing banknotes. Mrs R.M. brought proceedings against the applicants. The applicants were convicted of insult and defamation and sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment; they were also prohibited from working as journalists for one year.
The applicants submitted that their conviction was an unjustified interference with their right to freedom of expression.
The Court ruled that, although the applicants’ conviction might have been justified, the sanctions imposed on them had been manifestly disproportionate and therefore violated their freedom of expression.
The Court acknowledged that the article in issue suggested that Mrs R.M. had behaved in a dishonest and self-interested manner, and were likely to lead the readers to believe that the “fraud” of which she and the former deputy mayor were accused and the bribes they had allegedly accepted were established and uncontroversial facts.
The Court found that:
While the press had a duty to inform the public about presumed misappropriation on the part of public officials, a direct accusation of specified individuals shall have a sufficient factual basis:
The applicants’ allegations against Mrs R.M. had presented a distorted view of reality and had not been based on actual facts.
As the applicants had not acted in good faith in order to provide accurate and reliable information in accordance with the ethics of journalism, the conviction itself did not violate their freedom of expression.
However, the Court observed that the sanctions imposed on the applicants had been too severe considering their chilling effect on press freedom.