The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that ex-Croatian president Stjepan Mesic's right to respect for his private life was not violated by an article on the Dnevno.hr news portal on his alleged participation in corrupt activities surrounding the procurement of Patria vehicles. Pročitaj više
The Court noted that the article had not targeted Mr Mesic’s private life but had referred to his conduct in the exercise of his official duties and, in reporting what had been stated in official documents, had not unambiguously stated that he had participated in criminal activities, the Strasbourg-based ECHR said in its ruling on Wednesday.
In particular, the ECHR found that the Croatian courts had struck a fair balance between the former president’s right to respect for his private life and the right of the news portal to freedom of expression.
“In the article published in February 2015, the Internet news portal Dnevno.hr suggested that the applicant, a former President of Croatia, had, during his term of office, been offered or taken bribes in relation to the procurement of armoured vehicles for the Croatian army from the Finnish company Patria. Mr Mesic complained that by dismissing his civil action for compensation, the domestic courts had failed to protect his reputation in violation of his right to respect for private life,” says the ECHR court.
“Watchdog” role of the media
The Court found that the article had undoubtedly concerned a matter of public interest, and the “watchdog” role of the media was particularly important in such a context, where investigative journalism meant that the authorities could be held to account.
Also, the limits of acceptable criticism were wider as regards a politician than as regards a private individual. This applied even more so to Mr Mesic as he was not an ordinary politician but a head of state. Moreover, the article had not targeted his private life but had referred to his conduct in the exercise of his official duties, says the ECHR.
The Court found that the journalist had only reported what was stated in official documents and had made it clear that the statement about Mr Mesic receiving a bribe of €630,000 was not his own.
The Court found nothing inaccurate in the statement that two people had been sentenced to terms of imprisonment for giving bribes for the sale of armoured vehicles to Croatia. As regards the third statement, the Court found that it could not be said, when taking the article as a whole, that the journalist had unambiguously stated that Mr Mesic had participated in criminal activities.
The ruling, adopted by five votes to two, is not final, as the parties concerned have three months to appeal.