The ECHR decision of January 12, 2021 in the case "Gheorghe - Florin Popescu (Gheorghe-Florin Popescu) v. Romania" (aplication No. 79671/13).
In 2013, the applicant was assisted in the preparation of the aplication. Subsequently, the aplication was communicated to Romania.
In the case, an aplication was successfully considered to recover from the applicant, who was a journalist, compensation for moral damage caused to a third person, the editor-in-chief of a newspaper and a television producer of a local TV channel, by the content of several articles published by the applicant in his blog. The case involved a violation of article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicant, who was a journalist, was charged an amount of approximately EUR 1,100 as compensation for non-pecuniary damage caused to L. B., the editor-in-chief of the newspaper and a television producer of a local TV channel, by the content of several articles published by the applicant in his blog.
In presenting their arguments, the Romanian courts pointed out that the applicant accused L. B. of moral responsibility for the suicide of a third person, without presenting any evidence and in support of his accusations, simply noting that L. B. refused to cover the event in question in his newspaper. The Romanian courts also found that the applicant used vulgar and slanderous statements in his articles.
Regarding compliance with article 10 of the Convention. The Romanian courts based their conclusions primarily on the negative impact of the articles appealed against on the honor, reputation and dignity of L. B., as well as on the fact that the applicant could not prove his allegations. However, the European Court noted that the Romanian courts failed to do the following:
(i) distinguish between reports of facts and value judgments;
(ii) analyze certain key elements, namely that the applicant was a journalist and that freedom of the press plays a fundamental role in a democratic society;
(iii) take into account that the case concerned a conflict between the right to freedom of expression and the right to protection of reputation, as well as the requirement that the mentioned rights should be balanced;
(iv) investigate whether the applicant's statements related to the sphere of public interest, and whether they were related to a dispute on a matter of public interest;
(v) take into account the plaintiff's degree of fame or his previous behavior: it was not precisely established whether L. B. was a "public figure" acting in a public context within the meaning of the case law of the European Court, given his possible participation in political life or work as a chief editor or television producer in a media group;
(vi) regarding the content of the articles under consideration, clarify its purpose: the Romanian courts simply concluded that the applicant described L. B. in a negative light, which probably caused L. B. psychological suffering, anxiety and anxiety. According to the European Court, the reasoning of the Romanian courts demonstrated a tacit recognition that in this case respect for privacy outweighed respect for the right to freedom of expression;
(vii) with regard to the style of the articles under appeal, to study with a sufficient degree of care, taking into account that the main argument of the applicant's defense was the satirical nature of the publications, whether the content of the articles was a form of exaggeration or distortion of reality, naturally aimed at provocation and agitation, which was not necessary to be taken seriously, or not;
(viii) to assess the degree of dissemination of the articles under appeal, their availability, or the question of whether the applicant, as a well-known blogger and user of social networks, could have had a certain popularity that could increase the potential impact of his statements.
As to the severity of the sentence imposed, the applicant claimed that the amount of compensation collected from him was several times higher than the minimum subsistence level in Romania, however, without indicating either his financial situation at the time under review, or whether he had encountered difficulties in paying the required amount. The Romanian courts only listed certain criteria that should have been applied in determining the amount of compensation, without applying them and without taking into account the consequences of the payment of compensation for the applicant's financial situation. In such circumstances, and in the absence of information regarding the execution of the domestic court's decision, the European Court did not make assumptions about the impact of the fact of collecting compensation from the applicant on his financial situation.
In any case, in the light of the above factors and, in particular, the fact that the Romanian courts did not properly balance competing interests according to the criteria developed in case-law, the European Court decided that the interference with the applicant's right to freedom of expression was not justified on grounds that would be relevant and sufficient.
The case involved a violation of the requirements of article 10 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
In the application of article 41 of the Convention. The European Court decided that the finding of a violation of the Convention in itself is sufficient just compensation for non-pecuniary damage.