ECHR ruling of March 20, 2018 in the case of "Falzon (Falzon) v. Malta" (application N 45791/13).
In 2013, the complainant was assisted in preparing a application. Subsequently, the application was communicated to Malta.
The case was successfully considered the applicant's complaint about his conviction for the dissemination of false information in connection with the statements made by him, presented in the form of questions, which were considered by the domestic court as statements of fact. The case has violated the requirements of Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The claimant, who was the chairman of the Malta Labor Party, MF, made a speech in which he told the public that he had received an anonymous email and regular threatening letters, in connection with which he complained directly to the Malta police commissioner hold an investigation. The complainant published his article in the Malta Today newspaper, commenting on this speech and assessing how each of the two main parties in the country treated police actions. The article asked a series of questions below.
“Did not the Vice-Chairman of the Labor Party of Malta [MF] successfully use police forces to control the freedom of an innocent, law-abiding private person whom MF suspected of political opposition?” “And didn’t someone in the police structure abused their powers by agreeing to take such actions in favor of the [MF]-headed faction within the framework of the covert struggle within the Malta Labor Party?” "Why should the police interfere in the internal affairs of the Malta Labor Party when it is obvious that a large number of cooks get tasteless soup?"
"So what are the authorities doing about this?" "Did the Deputy Chairman of the Labor Party of Malta ... have more weight and importance for the Police Commissioner than the Deputy Prime Minister, who is politically responsible for the activities of the police?"
In response, the Deputy Chairman of the Labor Party of Malta filed a defamation case against the applicant. The domestic court found the applicant guilty of disseminating false information and ruled that the applicant should pay compensation for the damage (EUR 2,500). The applicant’s complaints were dismissed.
In the course of the constitutional proceedings, the applicant claimed that the domestic courts decided that the applicant was responsible for statements or statements that he did not make and did not imply in his article, such as the allegations that MF. “manipulated” by the police commissioner that the commissioner was subjected to pressure that “prevented him from fulfilling his duties” and that MF "was" deus ex macchina "who secretly led the police." With regard to the questions posed in the claimant’s article, he argued that the readers should have provided the answer.
Deus ex macchina (lat.) - literally: "God is out of the car", means the resolution of a problem not in a natural way, but through an outside intervention.
The Constitutional Court considered the issues complained of as statements of fact and confirmed the conclusion of the lower courts that the appellant did not confirm his arguments about the illegal and pressure-related pressure on the police by one of the leaders of the Labor Party.
QUESTIONS OF RIGHT
The result of the defamation proceedings was an interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of expression. The intervention was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim, namely the protection of the reputation and rights of others.
The statements formulated as questions appeared to be the main reason for the applicant’s conviction. The domestic courts attached to them a value that was not explicitly stated, and, as a result, it was considered that the statements were statements of facts that did not correspond to reality. The European Court disagreed with this conclusion of the domestic courts, recalling its broad and free interpretation of “evaluative decisions” related to the freedom of journalists ’activities on matters of public interest, especially those concerning political figures. Using a provocative style of communication, it is likely that the applicant raised the interest of readers in the possibility of any abuse committed by the deputy chairman of the opposition party, thus expressing his concern about a matter of public interest. Accordingly, the questions posed by the applicant were lawful and have a sufficient factual basis: the speech of M.F.
Moreover, the Court was not convinced that the statements complained of could be considered as attacks on a public figure, reached the required level of seriousness and could violate the right of M.F. on respect for privacy. Consequently, the award of compensation in favor of M.F. may have caused others to be afraid to exercise their right to freedom of expression.
As a result, the domestic courts did not properly strike a balance between the need to protect the claimant’s reputation and the applicant’s freedom to express his opinion.
In the case of a violation of the requirements of Article 10 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
In the application of Article 41 of the Convention, the Court awards the applicant EUR 4,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 2,500 in respect of pecuniary damage.