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Newspaper with no cover for 30 days – statement of the HFHR on disproportionate court’s judgment

The HFHR issued a statement to express its concern about the judgment of the Regional Court in Warsaw in the case brought by Monika Janowska against the Super Express daily newspaper. In the judgment of 25 August 2016 the Court ordered Super Express to publish an apology on the whole first page of the newspaper for the following 30 days, stating that the personal interests of M. Janowska have been violated. Moreover, the newspaper must pay PLN 150,000 as compensation to the claimant.

The estimated value of the apology on the cover of the newspaper is estimated at PLN 4.5 million. Moreover, the newspaper may lose a significant portion of its readership base as tabloid newspapers increase their sales by eye-catching, attractive covers.

At the outset, the Foundation emphasises a need to respect the principle of proportionality and adequacy of financial sanctions in court proceedings that concern the media outlet’s right to the freedom of expression.

“The European Court of Human Rights held, for instance in the cases of Tolstoy Miloslavsky v. The United Kingdom and Pakdemirli v. Turkey, that overly large awards of compensation as well as the media outlet’s obligation to bear other excessive costs such as those of publishing apologies may bring about a “freezing effect” on and constitute an unacceptable interference with the freedom of speech”, reads the statement.

The HFHR notes that an excessively costly publication of apologies may be considered a special form of punishment rather than a compensation for an infringement of personal interests. “The threat of facing severe financial consequences may negatively affect the function of ‘the public controller’ performed by the media. This may also persuade journalists and publishers to employ self-censorship and refrain from raising difficult subjects or asking tough questions”, said Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, a lawyer of the HFHR.

The HFHR’s statement underscores that damage may be redressed only by such methods that are economically reasonable and suitable for a given infringement. A strict judicial scrutiny should be exercised over not only amounts claimed as compensation but also any other costs related to the enforcement of the judgment, including the actual costs of publication of apologies.

The judgment is not yet final.

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