France Italy Spain Hungary Serbia Turkey Ireland Slovakia United Kingdom OVERVIEW OF EUROPE The media atmosphere was highly charged in much of Europe. Hungary's
controversial media law stirred passions, with many European Union member
states urging its repeal. Ireland's new blasphemy law, in an otherwise highly
praised 2009 media package, was under the gun. By late 2010, the Irish Parliament
planned a referendum vote.
Defamation figured in a court drama in Perugia, Italy: the murder trial of American
Amanda Knox. The controversial prosecutor, also under investigation, filed a
series of libel suits against Knox, her parents and others.
In France, journalists accused the government of spying on them and were sued
over the allegations. Libel tourism became a major issue, specially in Britain,
where by late 2010, Parliament was preparing a law on the problem.
In post-Communist Serbia and Slovakia, things looked brighter. Serbia's
Constitutional Court rejected restrictions in a 2009 media law. Slovakia's new
Prime Minister moved to mend press relations soured by her predecessor.
-- P. McC.
FRANCE Population: 62.6 million Press Freedom Rating: Free
A spy scandal clouded the media scene. The online
site Mediapart and weekly Canard Enchaîné accused
officials of using GPS to track journalists. Presidential
chief of staff Claude Guéant and domestic intelligence
chief Bernard Squarcini, countered the charges with libel suits against both media
outlets. The NGO Reporters Without Borders called it intimidation. “It is clear that
they are trying to intimidate. Squarcini’s lawyer recognized this by warning other
journalists not to repeat the Canard’s allegations. The most incredible aspect is that
it is now for the journalist to justify themselves."
Internet jurisdiction was the issue in a high profile libel tourism case. Thomas
Weiler, a law professor at New York University, faced criminal libel charges over
an unfavorable book review on his web site, Global Law Books. The book's author,
Karin Calvo-Goller, filed the suit in 2008 after Weiler failed to drop the review
from the site. Weiler lives New York, the reviewer lives in Cologne, Germany and
Calvo-Goller lives in Israel. The case was heard by the Criminal Tribunal of Paris.
Relevant Laws Law on Freedom of the Press of 1881 France’s “Law of July 29, 1881 on Freedom of the Press,” prescribes punishments
for insult to the President, public officials, and foreign dignitaries. There have been
modest reforms in recent years. For example, the “Guigou Law” in 2000 abolished
prison terms, but not fines, for press offenses like defamation and insult. The
offense of “insulting a foreign head of state,” formerly prohibited by Art. 36 of the
law, was abolished in 2004. Yet, some offenses were expanded in recent times,
with stiffer penalties, including imprisonment, for defaming or insulting persons
for race, religion, sexual orientation or physical disability.
Art. 23 specifies that those who directly incite another to commit a crime or
misdemeanor will be punished as accomplices. This applies to provocations carried
out by various means, including speech, cries or threats in public places or at
public meetings, in writing, print, drawings, engravings, paintings, insignia, images
or any other medium for writing, words or images, sold or distributed, offered for
sale or displayed in publicly, by bills or posters exposed to public sight, or public
Art. 26: Offense of the President of the Republic by a means enumerated in
Art.23 is punishable by a fine of 45,000 euros (approx. US$58,500).
Art. 27: prohibits publication, distribution or reproduction of false or fabricated
news, or news wrongly attributed to third parties, where this is done in bad faith
and the news undermines or is susceptible to undermining public peace. A fine of
45,000 euros (approx. US$58,500) applies. When false news may undermine the
discipline and morale of the army or hinder the war effort, the fine may reach
135,000 euros (approx. US$175,500).
Art. 29: Any allegation or imputation of an act that undermines the honor of, or
esteem towards, the person or body to which the act is attributed, constitutes libel.
Publication or reproduction of such an allegation or imputation is punishable, even
when made in the form of a question or if it targets a person or body not
specifically named, if their identification is possible by the terms of the speech,
cries, threats, writings or printed material, placards or posters.
Art. 30: provides that defamation of the courts, armed forces, established bodies
and public administrations, by a means listed in Art. 23, is punishable by a fine of
45,000 euros (approx. US$58,500).
Art. 31: The penalties listed in Art. 30 apply to defamation of the
following individuals because of their functions or positions: “one or more
ministers, one or more members of either House of Parliament, a public official,
one who holds or exercises public authority, a minister of religion paid by the
State, a citizen temporarily or permanently assigned a public service or mandate, a
juror or a witness, because of his testimony.”
Art. 32: Defamation of private individuals by a means listed in Art. 23 will be
punished by a fine of 12,000 euros (approx. US$15,600). Defamation by the same
means of a person or group of persons because of their origin or their ethnic,
national, racial or religious membership will be punished by imprisonment of one
year and/or a fine of 45,000 euros (approx. US$58,500). The same punishment
applies to defamation of a person or group because of gender, sexual orientation or
Art. 33: Insult by the same means against the entities or persons listed in Arts. 30
and 31 is punishable by a fine of 12,000 euros (approx. US$15,600). Insult by the
same means of private persons, when not preceded by
provocation, is also punishable by 12,000 euros (approx. US$15,600). When
the same targets a person or group of people because of their origin or
membership of an ethnic, national, religious or racial group, their gender, sexual
orientation or physical disability, the applicable punishment is six months’
imprisonment and a fine of 22,500 euros (approx. US$29,250).
Art. 35: Truth of the defamatory fact, solely if it relates to their functions,
may be established by normal means for allegations against established bodies, the
armed forces, public administrations and against all those listed in Art. 31. Truth of
defamatory or insulting allegations may also be established against directors or
administrators of any industrial, commercial or financial enterprise that publicly
seeks (investments through) savings and loans.
The truth of defamatory facts may be proven, except:
a) When the allegation concerns the person’s private life;
b) When the allegation refers to facts that are more than 10 years old;
c) When the allegation refers to a fact that constitutes an infraction that has been
amnestied or is subject to the statute of limitations, or when the conviction was
expunged through rehabilitation or review.
Art 37: Public contempt of ambassadors or plenipotentiaries, envoys, chargés
d'affaires and other diplomatic agents accredited to the Republic of France is
punishable by a fine of 45,000 Euros (approx. US$58,500).
Art. 48: 1) In cases of insult or defamation of the courts and other bodies listed in
Art. 30, prosecution shall take place only after they have deliberated in a general
assembly and have requested prosecution, or, if the body has no general assembly,
upon complaint by the head of the body or the minister to whom the body is
2) In cases of insult or defamation of one or more members of either House of
Parliament, prosecution shall take place only upon complaint by those concerned.
3) In cases of insult or defamation of public officials, those entrusted with public
authority or the agents of public authority other than ministers, and of citizens
entrusted with a public service or mandate, prosecution shall take place either upon
their complaint or automatically upon the complaint of the minister to whom they
4) In cases of defamation of a juror or witness, as provided by Art. 31, prosecution
shall follow the complaint of the person who claims to have been defamed.
5) In cases of offense against heads of state, or insult of foreign diplomats,
prosecution shall take place after their request to the Foreign Affairs Minister and
its referral by him to the Justice Minister.
HUNGARY Population: 9.8 million Press Freedom Rating: Free In the closing days of 2010, the Hungary Parliament
adopted a comprehensive “media package” that was
immediately and resoundingly criticized as specially
Draconian and in violation of Hungary’s 1949 Constitution,
and the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The Media Package overhauled the existing 1996 press law. Under the previous
law, the media was already highly politicized, and change was considered
necessary. The new law, however, firmly establishes the ruling right wing Fidesz
Party as watchdog of the media. Art. 61 of the Constitution making media
pluralism obligatory was abolished, and language was inserted on a “citizen’s right
to be provided with proper information about public life.” To insure “proper”
information, the new law establishes the National Media and Communications
Authority, along with the Media Council, a “dual monarchy” responsible for
oversight of, and sanctions against, all segments of the media. This includes all
foreign media deemed to be intended for a Hungarian audience, including online.
The Media Council and the “Authority” -- whose members were appointed to nine-
year terms by the Prime Minister -- have full authority to regulate content, interpret
the law, prescribe prison terms and fines exceeding $1 million dollars, and is
answerable only to the Prime Minister. All private and public media outlets,
including web sites, must register with the Authority, and face penalties of more
than $75,000 for non-compliance.
At 177 pages, the law is bureaucratic and complex, Its overriding feature as it
relates to insult is twofold: The language in the Media Package is very vague and
open to broadly interpretation. In a letter to Neelie Kroes, European Union
Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
expressed grave concern: “Due to these overreaching notions, the law still leaves
open the door for arbitrary practice of law. The enhanced legal protection of any
‘persons,‘ ‘majorities,’ ‘churches or religious groups’ is gratuitous.”
The Media Package prohibits “violation of privacy,” and “insulting human dignity
and public morality.” Since the law is left for the Fidesz-appointed watchdog to
interpret, insult could be alleged for many reasons. Anything interpreted as
defaming religion, ethnicity, or even “offending the majority” violates the law.
Relevant Laws Hungarian Constitution of 1949 Art 61 (as amended July 6, 2010) obliges Parliament to pass a law to prevent
information monopolies and was amended to provide a “citizen’s right to be
provided with ‘proper‘ or ‘adequate’ information about public life.”
Penal Code Act IV of 1978, Sect. 179: Misdemeanor for stating a fact that may be construed to
hurt another’s reputation, or uses an expression directly referring to such a fact.
Punishable by up to one year in prison, community service, or a fine. Up to two years in prison if the defamation is committed for a base reason, before a
large crowd, or causes considerable injury.
Hungary Media Act CIV of 2010 Art. 4: The exercise of the freedom of the press may not constitute or abet an act
of crime, violate public morals or prejudice the inherent rights of others.
Art. 10: All persons shall have the right to receive proper information on public
affairs as well as on any event bearing relevance to the citizens of Hungary.
Art. 11: In the Republic of Hungary, the public service media operate to preserve
and strengthen integrity both on a national and European level, foster national,
family, ethnic and … religious communities, as well as promote and enrich
national and minority languages and culture and meet the needs of citizens for
information and culture.
Art. 13: 1) All media content providers shall provide authentic, rapid and accurate
information on local, national and EU affairs and on any event that relevant to the
citizens of the Republic of Hungary and members of the Hungarian nation.
2) Online and on-demand media content providers engaged in news coverage
operations shall provide comprehensive, factual, up-to-date, objective and balanced
coverage on local, national and European issues that may be of interest for the
general public and on any event relevant to the citizens of the Republic of Hungary
and members of the Hungarian nation.
Art. 14: 1) The media shall, in the content it publishes and while preparing such
content, respect human dignity.
2) No self-gratifying and detrimental coverage of persons in humiliating or
defenseless situations is allowed in media content.
Art. 16: The media content provider shall respect the constitutional order of the
Republic of Hungary, and its operations may not violate human rights. Art. 17: 1) Media content may not incite hatred against persons, nations,
communities, national, ethnic, linguistic and other minorities or any majority as
well as any church or religious group. 2) May not offend or discriminate -- expressly or implicitly – against persons,
nations, communities, national, ethnic, linguistic, and other minorities or any
majority as well as any church or religious group.
Media Council Art. 182: Acting within its regulatory powers, the Media Council, in accordance
with Art, 132, (c) shall supervise compliance with requirements set forth in Arts. 13–20 of the
Press Freedom Act;
(r) shall act in legal disputes defined in this Act;
Art. 185: 1) The Media Council or the Office shall have the right to apply legal
consequence on parties infringing rules on media administration in accordance
with the provisions of Arts. 186-189.
2) In applying legal consequence, the Media Council and the Office, under the
principle of equal treatment, shall act in line with the principles of progressivity
and proportionality; shall apply the legal consequence proportionately, in line with
the gravity and rate of recurrence of the infringement, taking into account all
circumstances of the case and the purpose of the legal consequence.
(i) When the infringement is of minor significance and no recurrence can be
established, the Media Council or the Office, on noting and warning on the fact of
the infringement, may request, setting a maximum deadline of 30 days, that the
infringer discontinue its unlawful conduct, refrain from infringement in the future
and act in a law-abiding manner and may also set the conditions thereof.
(ii) In the context of the request defined under Paragraph (i), the considerations
defined in Article 187 (2) shall not apply.
(iii) When, considering all the circumstances of the case, the request may not be
applicable or would prove inadequate to force compliance with the obligation to
discontinue the infringement, the Media Council or the Office, without stating the
reasons for dispensing with a request, shall prohibit the unlawful conduct and/or
may set obligations to insure observance of the provisions of this Act and may
apply legal consequences.
Art. 187: 1. In case of repeated infringement, the Media Council and the Office
shall have the right to impose a fine on the senior officer of the infringing entity in
an amount not exceeding HUF 2,000,000 (approx. US$10,840) in line with the
gravity, nature of the infringement and the circumstances of the particular case.
3. The Media Council and the Office -- with due heed to Paragraph (7) -- shall
have the right to impose the following legal consequences:
a) it may exclude the infringer from the opportunity to participate in the tenders put
out by the Fund for a definite period of time;
b) it may impose a fine on the infringer in line with the following limits:
b.a) in case of infringement by a media service provider … under the regulations
on the limitation of media market concentration, the fine shall be an amount not
exceeding HUF 200,000,000 (approx. US$1,083,540);
b.b) in case of infringement by a media service provider beyond the scope of item
(b.a), the fine shall be an amount not exceeding HUF 50,000,000 (approx.
b.c) in the case of a newspaper distributed nationally, the fine shall be an amount
not exceeding HUF 25,000,000 (approx. US$136,000);
b.d) in the case of a weekly periodical distributed nationally, the fine shall be an
amount not exceeding HUF 10,000,000 (approx. US$54,300];
b.e) in the case of other newspaper or weekly newspaper or periodical, the fine
shall be an amount not exceeding HUF 5,000,000 (approx. US$27,160);
b.f) in the case of an online media product, the fine shall be an amount not
exceeding HUF 25,000,000 (approx. US$136,000);
b.g) in the case of a broadcaster, the fine shall be an amount not exceeding HUF
5,000,000 000 (approx. US$27,160);
b.h) in the case of an intermediary service provider, the fine shall be an amount not
exceeding HUF 3,000,000 000 (approx. US$16,300);
c) the infringer may be obliged to publish a notice or the finding on the opening
page of its web site, in a media product or a designated program in the manner and
for the period of time specified in the finding;
d) it may suspend the exercise of the media service’s right of provision for a
specific period of time;
d.a) the period of suspension may last from 15 minutes up to 24 hours;
d.b) the period of suspension in case of grave infringement may last from one hour
to 48 hours;
d.c) the period of suspension in case of repeated and grave infringement may last
from three hours up to one week.
IRELAND Population: 4.5 million Press Freedom Rating: Free
The blasphemy law that was part of the 2009 media reform
package continued to stir controversy. The new media law
was largely lauded as positive because it decriminalized
defamation. But blasphemy was established as an offense,
for which conviction carries a fine of about US$36,000.
International media watchdogs were highly critical of the move. Ireland, ranked
jointly as first in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, was dropped to
tenth place in the 2010 survey because of the blasphemy law.
Reporters Without Borders commented: “As it stands, this law offers legal grounds
to religious extremists of all kinds. It allows them to use the force of the law to
impose their views. Ireland has just taken the EU back several centuries.”
Some analysts speculated the law was to address the needs of an increasingly
diverse society. Others argued it was in response to avoid offending Muslims.
The group “Atheist Ireland” led a highly publicized campaign to repeal the
provision. It published on its web site “25 blasphemous quotations,” in an attempt
to bait the Irish government into prosecution.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern defended the provision, saying it filled a “legal
void.” But, in March, he announced a referendum to be held in 2011, under which
the law could be repealed.
Relevant Laws The Defamation Act of 2009 abolished the Defamation Act of 1961, that
imposed prison sentences for malicious, knowingly false, obscene and
Defamation Act of 2009: A defamatory statement is defined in Sect. 2 as “a
statement that tends to injure a person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable
members of society.”
Sect. 6 (2) of the Act defines defamation as “the publication, by any means, of a
defamatory statement concerning a person to one or more than one person (other
than the first-mentioned person).” Plaintiffs may ask courts to issue declaratory
judgments deeming the statement at issue defamatory; orders to publish
corrections; and orders prohibiting the publication of the defamatory statement.
Plaintiffs may also seek damages.