The International Press Institute (IPI) has called for the removal of Europe’s defamation laws after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which relates to a 1995 drugs shipment that was intercepted in Algeciras port.
The director of the IPI, David Dadge, said all European countries that had defamation laws should repeal them to prevent individuals from outside of the region using them to silence the legitimate revealing of information by journalists that work in democratic countries.
Recently the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Spain’s sentencing of the Spanish editor of Diario 16, José Luis Gutiérrez (pictured above), over an article in his newspaper linking Morocco’s now-deceased King Hassan II to drug-dealers was a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention, which protects the rights of freedom of expression and of the press.
It was back in 1995, when Diario 16 published a story headlined “Five tons of hashish discovered in a consignment belonging to Hassan II’s company” and referred to on the first page under the headline “A family company belonging to Hassan II implicated in drug trafficking” – in reference to the seizure of 4.6 tonnes of hashish hidden in a lorry belonging to Domaines Royaux, a company owned by the Alaouite royal family, as its entered Spain by Algeciras.
A year later a Spanish court ruled that the drug traffickers had no connection with Domaines Royaux but were three Spanish nationals.In 1997, the Moroccan monarchy sued, in Spain, the author of the report Rosa María López, the Diario 16 editor and the publishing company, alleging that the article had damaged the king’s reputation.
The court sided with the Moroccan King ruling that there had been “an interference with the fundamental right to respect for the king’s reputation.” It also criticised the title of the article and noted a 1996 court ruling that the drug traffickers in question had no connection with Domaines Royaux.
Gutierrez and Diario 16, which has since ceased publication, were ordered to pay a fine and publish the ruling in the newspaper.
However Gutiérrez was not about to let the matter rest and made a number of appeals including one to the Spanish Supreme Court all of which failed. In July 2004, the IPI wrote to the Supreme Court to criticize the Court’s dismissal of Gutiérrez’s appeal.
The editor supported by the IPI and other freedom of expression organisations decided to press on taking his appeal all the way to the Strasbourg-based Court of Human Rights in April 2007.
Finally the Court of Human Rights gave its ruling stating that “whilst the headline had been designed to attract the reader’s attention, the information in the body of article was true,” and published in good faith.
It ruled that “the restriction on the applicant’s freedom of expression had not been proportionate to the potential seriousness of the damage to the reputation in question.”
After the court had ruled in Gutierrez’s favour he sent an email to the IPI: “This ruling of the European Court of Human Rights is a great example of support for freedom of speech and press, precisely at a time when the democratic press in the world is coming under attack by totalitarian and undemocratic forces. The pressure and denunciation by international organizations of Press Freedom, starting with the magnificent IPI, has been fundamental. Their support has certainly been of great importance to members of the tribunal.”
Freedom of the press or was it defamation? I am sure you have an opinion!