Ukraine: Court gives backing to media free expression complaint

Newspaper criticism of a spokeswoman for former Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych, should not have resulted in Ukraine legal action against the publishing company.

That is the view reached by human rights judges in the case Instytut Ekonomichnykh Reform, TOV v. Ukraine (no. 61561/08).

The case concerned defamation proceedings brought in 2007 against the editorial company of one of the nationwide dailies in Ukraine.

The applicant company, Instytut Ekonomichnykh Reform, is a limited liability company, based in Ukraine. It is the editorial body of the Evening News newspaper (Вечерние Вести).

In May 2007, the newspaper published an article critical of Ganna German, one of the main spokespeople for the then Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych. At the time the newspaper was closely associated with Yuliya Tymoshenko, a political leader and Mr Yanukovych’s major rival.

In July 2007, German brought a defamation claim against the applicant company and the author of the article. In December 2007 the first-instance court found in German’s favour, on the ground that certain statements made in the article with regard to the flat in Kyiv constituted false statements of fact which were negative and insulting to her. Notably, according to the court’s interpretation of some of the statements in the article, the author of the article implied that German was supporting Yanukovych solely because she wished to become a member of parliament and obtain a flat in Kyiv to which members of parliament were entitled.

The court established that Ms German had not requested or received a flat in her capacity as an MP and that the statements suggesting that she had had not been verified or proved by the defendants. The applicant company was ordered to retract the statements in question and to pay German 1,700 Ukrainian hryvnias (approximately 300 euros at the time) in compensation.

This decision was subsequently upheld by the superior courts, the Supreme Court ultimately dismissing the applicant company’s appeal on points of law in May 2008.

Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), the applicant company complained about the decisions against it, alleging that the article had been a satirical expression of the author’s view on
what had led German to change sides in the Ukrainian political life and had not been intended to spread false information about her.

Violation of Article 10

Just satisfaction: EUR 4,500 (non-pecuniary damage)

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