HomeInsightsEuropean Court of Human Rights finds Slovakian courts had breached Article 10 in relation to reporter’s commentary on death of Polish President

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The applicant company, MAC TV s.r.o., operated two private television channels. Based in Bratislava, it was established in 1991.

The case concerned a television programme it had broadcast in April 2010 after the plane crash killing the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski. The reporter’s commentary during the broadcast was critical of the former Polish President’s political views, noting in particular that a political era had ended with his death.

The Broadcasting Council, of its own motion, subsequently brought administrative proceedings against the applicant company for the broadcast, taking particular issue with the last two sentences of the reporter’s commentary: “I am sorry, but I do not pity the Poles. I envy them”.

The Broadcasting Council, acknowledging that the commentary had been sarcastic and ironic, found however that it had constituted a serious attack on the honour and reputation of the former Polish President as a politician and a human being. The applicant company was fined 5,000 Euros. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in March 2011.

The applicant company’s constitutional complaint was later rejected. The Constitutional Court found in particular that the commentary had expressed a positive attitude towards the late President’s death and that this had undermined his human dignity.

Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), the applicant company complained about being sanctioned for expressing its political opinion on the late Polish President’s alleged extreme conservatism.

The ECtHR found that the Slovkian authorities had failed to demonstrate that the interference with the applicant company’s rights, as protected under Article 10 of the ECHR, had been “necessary in a democratic society”.

It found that the Slovkian authorities had not considered the reporter’s commentary in its overall context and had essentially based their conclusions predominantly on his closing remarks (“I am sorry, but I do not pity the Poles. I envy them”). It is established case law that it is the commentary (or article) as a whole that should be considered.

In the absence of the domestic authorities’ interpretation of the wider context of the commentary and any other sufficiently compelling grounds, the ECtHR said that their assessment was too narrow in scope.

Further, the ECtHR said, nothing in the commentary suggested that the applicant company had overstepped the limits of freedom of expression tolerated under Article 10 by using a sarcastic tone and ironic language. In addition, the commentary, when assessed in its overall context, neither incited praise for the death of the President for his political views nor constituted hate‑speech. (MAC TV s.r.o. v. Slovakia (no. 13466/12), 28 November 2017 — to read the judgment in full, click here).

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