In 2012, the applicants were assisted in preparing the application. The application was subsequently communicated to Greece.
In the case, the applicants' complaint to bring them to civil liability for the publication of a newspaper article in which the official woman was named "completely unknown" was successfully considered. 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 first applicant was a journalist and former owner of a daily newspaper, the second was also a journalist and worked in the same newspaper. In December 2004 the second applicant published an article in this newspaper. The article, placed in a column devoted to the behind-the-scenes side of political life, concerned the appointment of the actress R.M. to the advisory council on subsidies of the theater department of the Ministry of Culture. In April 2005, R.M. filed a claim for damages to the Athens Court of First Instance against the two applicants and the editor of the newspaper, claiming that she was a victim of insult and violation of her personal rights.
In June 2006, with three defendants, a sum of 30,000 euros in favor of RM was jointly collected. The court noted that the use of the words "completely unknown" went beyond acceptable criticism and was not objectively necessary for the journalist to express his opinion on the appointment. He also noted the significant contribution of the plaintiff to theatrical art and the representation of the country abroad in the sphere of culture. Complaints against the decision were unsuccessful.
ISSUES OF LAW
Concerning compliance with the requirements of Article 10 of the Convention. The recovery of compensation from the applicants constituted an interference with their right to freedom of expression. This interference was provided by law and pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the reputation or rights of others.
The expression "completely unknown", taken in context, was a value judgment that did not require proof. This expression was not without factual basis, because RM, who was an actress, did not hold any public positions in the past, and the article was not aimed at disseminating information in the strict sense of the word, but was part of a column on the behind-the-scenes side of political life, known for that reason in a sarcastic tone, in which she portrayed certain politicians and political events. The country's courts did not consider problematic comments in the general context of the case in order to assess the applicants' intention. The expression "completely unknown" was actually followed by rather benevolent comments on the appointment of R.M. The domestic courts took expression outside the context and concluded that the words "it is not known to a wide range of persons" would be sufficient for the second applicant to express an opinion. However, the role of the country's courts in such proceedings is not to indicate to the author what style he should use in exercising his right to criticism, however harsh the criticism may be. On the contrary, they should consider whether the context of the case, the public interest and the author's intention were justified by the possible use of some degree of provocation or exaggeration. R.M. was appointed a member of the advisory council for state subsidies to theaters, so her role was essentially political, with public responsibilities, and she could not be regarded as "just a private person." The persons participating in the case thus acted in a public context, and this article was part of the discussion on a matter of general interest. It concerned RM. exclusively as a member of the advisory council. Accordingly, in this capacity, she had to expect that her appointment would be the subject of close attention on the part of the press and could even provoke harsh criticism. The expressions used by the second applicant were not unreasonably offensive. Finally, from the defendants, including two applicants, 30,000 euros were jointly and severally recovered in compensation to R.M. The courts of the country took into account the nature and seriousness of the harm caused to the plaintiff, her status, the financial situation of the defendants and the constitutional principle of proportionality, without going into details, but they, for example, did not analyze the financial situation of the applicants.
In view of the foregoing, the Greek authorities did not provide any valid and sufficient reasons to justify the award of compensation to RM, and this sanction was not proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. The decision on the civil case against the applicants did not meet the "urgent social need" and therefore was not necessary in a democratic society.
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 Court awarded each applicant EUR 2,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage, the finding of a violation of the Convention is sufficient compensation for pecuniary damage.