ECHR judgment of 16 March 2017 in the case of Olafsson v. Iceland (application No. 58493/13).
In 2013, the applicant was assisted in preparing the application. Subsequently, the application was communicated to Iceland.
In the case, a complaint was successfully examined for imposing a fine on the editor of the Internet portal for publishing charges of violence against a child against a person who is an electoral candidate. The case involved a violation of the requirements of Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicant, who was the editor of the information Internet portal, published the allegations made by two sisters, according to which their relative, who was an election candidate, subjected them to sexual violence in childhood. The relative initiated a defamation proceedings against the applicant, asking that a number of statements be found to be untrue. The Supreme Court recognized the statements suggesting that the relative was guilty of child abuse, defamatory, and ordered the applicant to pay compensation.
In the conventional proceedings, the applicant complained under Article 10 of the Convention of a violation of his right to freedom of expression.
ISSUES OF LAW
Concerning compliance with Article 10 of the Convention. The problem of sexual violence against children is a serious issue of public interest. As a candidate for the post in the general election, the relative must be considered as a person who inevitably and knowingly entered the field of public information and opened its actions for closer monitoring. The general requirement for journalists to systematically and formally distance themselves from the content of quotations that may offend or provoke others or diminish their reputation is not compatible with the role of the press in providing information on current events, opinions and ideas. Punishing a journalist for assisting in the dissemination of statements made by a person in an interview can seriously undermine the contribution of the press to the discussion of public interest issues and should not be used in the absence of particularly compelling reasons for this. The journalist who wrote the articles tried to check whether the sisters deserve trust, and whether their accusations are truthful, by interviewing several persons related to the events, and a relative of the sisters was given the opportunity to comment on the charges. In these circumstances, considering that the applicant was an editor and not a journalist, the Court considered that the applicant acted in good faith and ensured the writing of the article in accordance with the usual journalistic obligations to verify factual allegations. It was clear that the controversial statements came from the sisters. They previously wrote a letter containing part of the allegations, and sent it to their relatives, the police and child protection services. They published this letter and all the controversial statements on their own website before the articles were published by the editor.
A sibling's relative under the laws of Iceland could initiate a defamation proceedings against sisters, and it was indicative that he preferred to initiate proceedings against the applicant alone. Although the compensation that was collected from the applicant was not a criminal penalty and the amount was not serious, in the context of proportionality assessment, whether the sanction applied was insignificant, the very fact that the decision was made against the interested person mattered, even if such a decision was civil in nature. Any improper restriction of freedom of expression effectively led to the threat that media coverage of such issues would be complicated or terminated.
In the case there was a violation of the requirements of Article 10 of the Convention (unanimously adopted).
In the application of Article 41 of the Convention. The claim for damages was not raised.