Romania: Satirist wins Freedom of Expression case

Gianna Iacino

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declared a human rights violation in Romania on 07 July 2015. A journalist and satirist had been convicted on criminal defamation charges for publications in a satirical magazine by a Romanian County Court.

In the context of the 2004 presidential elections the journalist published several articles about the political adviser of one of the presidential candidates in a satirical magazine. In these articles the journalist implied that the political adviser was a spy and a money launderer for the former totalitarian regime.

The alleged spy filed a complaint against the journalist. The lower instance rejected the complaint and acquitted the journalist. The plaintiff appealed the Court’s decision. The Romanian County Court decided in favour of the plaintiff and stated that the journalist was guilty of defamation by indirect intention. Therefore, the Romanian Court sentenced the journalist to a criminal fine and to pay civil damages to the plaintiff. The journalist turned to the ECtHR against the Romanian County Court’s decision complaining a violation of his freedom of expression rights enshrined in article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (Convention).

The ECtHR decided that the County Court’s decision violated the journalist’s freedom of expression rights. Although the ECHR stated that the possibility of a conviction was foreseen by law and that the restrictions on the rights of freedom of expression pursued the legitimate aim of protecting "reputations of rights of others", the Court decided that the conviction was not "necessary in a democratic society".

The ECHR considered the plaintiff to be a public figure for his involvement in the presidential election as a political adviser for a presidential candidate. Although the articles used "unsuitable" language according to the ECHR, they were considered to be still within the limits of permissible exaggeration and provocation due to the fact that the plaintiff was considered to be a public figure, and that the articles were in the characteristic style of a satirical publication.

Gianna Iacino, LL.M., is a research assistant at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.

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The judgement of the ECHR is available in French language here.