Serbia’s B92 TV has won its freedom of speech case in front of the European Court of Human Rights. The ruling comes after the country’s assistant health minister sued the station for accusing her of abuse of office in relation to the procurement of swine flu vaccines.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled in favour of the Belgrade-based TV B92 in a case that focused on the station’s reporting of allegations of abuse of office by the assistant health minister in 2011.
Ruling on the freedom of speech case, the ECHR said Serbia had committed a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The court found that, overall, the applicant company [TV B92] had acted in good faith and with the diligence expected of responsible journalism,” read the court decision.
In 2011, the then-assistant health minister, Zorica Pavlovic, was accused of abuse of office in the procurement of swine flu vaccines.
A report from TV B92 on the subject said that 12 names, including assistant health minister Pavlovic, had been removed from a police list of suspects of abuse of office in connection with the scandal. It was alleged that Pavlovic’s name had been removed due to pressure exerted by the Special Prosecutor on the Interior Ministry.
The report in question was based on an investigation by a team of B92 journalists from the ‘Insajder’ TV show. Reporters focused in particular on a note obtained from two police officers that had been prepared by a division of the Fight Against Organised Financial Crime Department.
Assistant minister Pavlovic was named in the note, and instituted civil proceedings against B92 in April 2012.
Serbian courts ruled that B92’s TV broadcasts and online articles had caused damage to Pavlovic’s reputation. The station was ordered to pay 1,750 euros in non-pecuniary damages, and a further 900 euros in court costs. The outlet was also ordered by the court to pull the article from the website, and publish the judgment ruled against the site.
Serbian courts, including the Constitutional Court, found that B92 had failed to fact check with due diligence, particularly in regards to the claim that the criminal complaint had not been filed due to pressure from the Interior Ministry.
As part of the freedom of speech case, however, the ECHR ruled that the courts had “gone too far in their criticism of the applicant company’s fact-checking.”
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