The decision of the ECHR of November 05, 2020 in the case "Balaskas v. Greece" (aplication No. 73087/17).
In 2017, the applicant was assisted in preparing the aplication. Subsequently, the aplication was communicated to Greece.
An aplication about the violation of the right to freedom of expression was successfully considered in the case. The case involved a violation of the requirements of article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicant is a journalist. He was convicted of insulting the media after he published an article in a local newspaper in response to the blog of V. M., the headmaster of the local high school at the time in question. The applicant unsuccessfully appealed against his sentence.
Regarding compliance with article 10 of the Convention. The verdict against the applicant was an "interference by a State authority" with the applicant's right to freedom of expression, which was "provided for by law" and pursued the legitimate goal of "protecting the reputation and rights of others".
The present case concerns a conflict of competing interests: on the one hand, respect for the applicant's right to freedom of expression and, on the other hand, V. M.'s right to respect for his private life. In particular, in his article, the applicant pointed to V. M., presenting him as a theorist of the far-right political party "Golden Dawn "and calling him a"neo-Nazi". Considering both links together, these characteristics could not only harm V. M.'s reputation, but also cause prejudice against him in professional and social circles where he communicated with other people. Consequently, the charges reached the required level of seriousness and could damage the rights of V. M. guaranteed by article 8 of the Convention.
(a) Contribution to a discussion of public interest. In his article, the applicant wanted to share information about an article that V. M. had written shortly before about the uprising at the Polytechnic University of Athens in 1973 (concerning a student demonstration that contributed to the end of the dictatorship era in Greece, the corresponding date is a public holiday). In this regard, V. M.'s point of view on this event, which he called "an obvious lie", while holding the position of the director of a local high school, could cause numerous contradictory reactions. Consequently, the applicant's article, which set out the thoughts expressed in V. M.'s blog, concerned an issue of public interest, and the applicant, as a journalist, had the right to disseminate relevant information.
The Greek courts did not consider the article as a whole, but rather focused on the characteristics used by the applicant, taken out of context, and therefore did not include in their assessment any reasoning regarding the contribution of the applicant's article to the discussion of an issue of public interest. Even though the Greek courts recognized that the applicant had a legitimate interest in informing the public, the courts did not draw any conclusions from this statement.
(b) To the extent that the person concerned knows what his previous behavior is and what the subject of the article is. V. M. was a State civil servant, namely, the director of a local high school and in this capacity enjoyed certain protection. At the same time, he regularly published his opinion on political issues in personal blogs. The Greek courts did not directly appreciate the fact that V. M., who, although he could not be compared to a political figure, given his work as a school director, still provided an opportunity for criticism from journalists when he decided to publish some of his ideas or beliefs, a number of which, very likely, caused a very contradictory reaction. The special duties and responsibilities of teachers, who are a symbol of power for their students in the field of education, also apply to a certain extent to the activities of teachers outside of school.
(c) The method of obtaining the information and its reliability. The European Court recalls that such concepts as" neo-fascist"," Nazi "do not automatically justify a guilty verdict in a libel case on the basis of granting a person a special status and that the well-known offensive expressions" idiot "and" fascist " can be considered permissible criticism under certain circumstances. In addition, the mere fact of referring to a person as a "fascist", "Nazi" or "communist" cannot in itself be considered a designation of a person's party affiliation.
The applicant's article cited the point of view of V. M., as it was stated in his blog, and as such, the method of obtaining information by the applicant was not disputed. As for the reliability of the information included in the article, the Greek courts qualified the characteristics voiced by the applicant as "a well-known neo-Nazi director" and "a theorist of the Golden Dawn organization "as value judgments. However, the Greek courts did not consider the question of whether these value judgments were supported by facts, based on articles previously published by V. M.
(d) The content, form of publication and its consequences. The tone of the article used by the applicant could be considered provocative, and the article could be considered sarcastic, containing serious criticism, although there were no clearly offensive concepts or statements in the article. The design of the printed article and the style of presentation of the material used in it were the subject of the decision of the editorial team, which, in principle, neither the European Court nor the courts of Greece could challenge. Although journalistic freedom was unlimited, in the present case neither the statements complained of nor the article as a whole could be perceived as unfounded personal attacks or insults against V. M.
In conclusion, the European Court was not provided with sufficient information to assess or consider the consequences of the publication of the article.
(e) The severity of the sentence imposed. The applicant was sentenced to three months of suspended imprisonment. The circumstances of the present case, a classic example of criticism of a person from the local community in the context of a dispute of public interest, did not justify the use of a custodial sentence. Such a punishment by its very nature can inevitably have a deterrent effect on the intentions to hold public discussions, and the fact that the applicant was given a suspended sentence does not change this conclusion, especially given that the applicant's criminal record was not removed.
(f) Output. As a result, the Greek courts did not conduct an assessment in accordance with the criteria established in the case-law of the European Court of Justice, and, accordingly, did not pay proper attention to the important function that the press performs in a democratic society. The Greek courts did not provide relevant and sufficient grounds to justify the contested interference. Therefore, the intervention was not "necessary in a democratic society".
The case involved a violation of the requirements of article 10 of the Convention (unanimously).
In the application of article 41 of the Convention. The European Court awarded the applicant 10,000 and 1,603 euros in compensation for non-pecuniary damage and material damage, respectively.