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November 16, 2017
The applicant German publishing house, Verlagsgruppe Droemer Knaur GmbH, published a book in Germany entitled “Mafia” about Mafia activities in Germany. The book referred to an Italian national residing in Germany (SP), alleging that he was connected to the Mafia ‘Nadrangheta organisation.
SP sought an injunction in the German courts against publication of the passages referring to him, which was granted and upheld on appeal. He then sought damages of €20,000. The courts decided that, in addition to the injunction, Verlagsgruppe should also pay €10,000 in damages.
Verlagsgruppe took its case to the ECtHR alleging that the decision to order a damages payment was a breach of its Article 10 (freedom of expression) rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ECtHR rejected Verlagsgruppe’s claim, finding that the German courts had complied with ECtHR case law and had correctly balanced the competing rights to privacy of SP under Article 8 of the ECHR with Verlagsgruppe’s Article 10 rights.
In particular, it found that, although journalists are entitled to rely on official reports without having to undertake independent research, in this case, the reports by the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation on which Verlagsgruppe had relied as the source for the allegations, had not been intended for publication. Verlagsgruppe should have undertaken further research to corroborate the information in the reports, but it did not do so. Given that the information concerned allegations of a criminal nature made against a private individual, who could expect a higher level of protection in relation to his right to a private life than a public figure might expect, the publisher should not have relied solely on an unpublished report.
The ECtHR found that the German courts had therefore been right to award an injunction against publication of certain passages from the book and to order Verlagsgruppe to pay €10,000 in damages to SP. (Verlagsgruppe Droemer Knaur GmbH v Germany (application no 35030/13) (19 October 2017) — to read the judgment in full, click here.