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Website editor not liable for publishing sexual allegations against political candidate

Olafsson v Iceland [2017] ECHR 259

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the Icelandic courts were wrong to hold a website editor liable for publishing allegations made by two sisters that a relative, who was standing for election, had sexually abused them when they were children.

Pressan, a web-based media site, published a series of articles about the sisters’ allegations against A.  Defamation proceedings were brought against the editor of Pressan, where the Supreme Court found the statements to be defamatory.  The Court held that the editor had a supervisory obligation to conduct his editorial duties in such a way that the published material would not harm anyone by being defamatory.  Pressan had reported allegations of criminal conduct over matters which had not been investigated and for which A had not been prosecuted.

The editor appealed the Supreme Court decision on the basis that this decision violated his right to freedom of speech, protected by Article 10 of the ECHR.  It was considered that the matter was serious and the public had a legitimate interest in being informed.  Furthermore, by running for office, A must be considered to have knowingly entered the public domain.

The Court stated that,

punishment of a journalist for assisting in the dissemination of statements made by another person in an interview would seriously hamper the contribution of the press to discussion of matters of public interest and should not be envisaged unless there are particularly strong reasons for doing so.’

While it was accepted that the allegations were capable of causing harm to A’s reputation, the statements originated from the sisters and not the journalist or editor.  The Court found that while A had chosen to proceed against the editor only, he still had the option of bringing proceedings against the sister.  However, the interference with Article 10 in this instance was not justified.

Read Inforrm article here.

Dafamation, Media