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Violation of Article 10 to order politician to publish apology for defaming newspaper

Kurski v Poland (Application No. 26115/10)

The European Court’s Fourth Section held that a civil action by a newspaper against a Polish politician, Jacek Kurski, for alleging that the newspaper had an agreement with an oil corporation to finance the newspaper’s mass propaganda against his political party, violated the politician’s freedom of expression.

Jacek Kurski, a Polish MP participated in a live television debate on a talk show.  He produced a copy of the newspaper in question and pointed to an advertisement for a large oil company.  He claimed in effect that it was not about advertising but about “financing mass propaganda against Law and Justice...”  The newspaper launched a civil action against Kurski for damaging its reputation.  A regional court upheld the newspaper’s claim and Poland’s Supreme Court rejected the politician’s appeal in 2009.  He refused to comply with the order to publish an apology.  In 2010 a district court allowed the newspaper’s publisher to publish the apology in the politician’s name and ordered him to cover the costs.

The European Court found that while the allegations were quite serious, they were made against a newspaper actively involved in public debate.  It held that ‘the limits of permissible criticism are much wider with regard to newspapers than in relation to a private citizen.’

The Court found that the sanctions imposed were excessive because publication of an apology entailed considerable costs for the applicant and the domestic courts failed to strike a fair balance between the publisher’s rights and Kurski’s freedom of expression.  Article 10 had been violated.

Read Inforrm article here.