On May 31 the Council on Information Disputes released its firs expert judgment on a libel and defamation court case. The missions of the Council, established on May 1, 2011, list preparation and release of advisory expert conclusions on court litigations regarding libel and defamation, protection of private life and freedom of information, as well as providing consultations to the Armenian legislative and executive authorities, local self-government bodies and citizens (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 29 – May 5, 2011).
The first expert judgment of the Council was rendered upon its own initiative and deals with the suit of Robert Kocharian, Second President of Armenia, versus founder of “Hraparak” daily, “Hraparak Oratert” LLC.
As it has been reported, on March 25 Robert Kocharian had addressed the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts of Yerevan demanding to refute the information discrediting his honor and dignity as contained in the piece, “Do They Destroy Kocharian, And Explain to Tsarukian?, published in “Hraparak” on February 12, 2011. The plaintiff also requires to compensate for the damage caused by defamation and libel, as well as recompense the court expenses. The total amount of the financial claims is 6 millions AMD (about $ 16,200), half of which are the court expenses. The hearings on the case started on May 10 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, May 6-12, 2011).
As mentioned in the Council expert judgment, the legal analysis of the suit was based on principles of national and international law that are specified in the document (in particular, the RA Constitution, European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms).
According to the Council, the issue raised in the piece “Do They Destroy Kocharian, And Explain to Tsarukian?” is of public interest, as it touches upon the relations between key political figures and parties ahead of signing the memorandum on cooperation by the ruling coalition. The expressions of the piece, contested by the RA Second President and directly criticizing him, are overall value judgments by the piece author; and pursuant to the case law of European Court of Human Rights are not subject to prove, the Council stresses. At the same time, one of the expressions can be qualified as statement of facts in conformity with the ECHR case law, the Council notes. However, the final conclusion will depend on proofs provided by the respondent to the court.
The expert judgment also analyzes two other pieces by “Hraparak” – “Self-Constituted Letter on Behalf of Kocharian” (February 22, 2011) and “Personally from Kocharian, with Mistakes and Signature” (March 12, 2011), which are in fact a reply to the demand of Roberts Kocharian’s representative on publishing a refutation on the piece which became a matter of the suit. According to the Council, the both articles contain value judgments of the author.
The document also lists some principles implied by the ECHR practice that can be applied to the present case. In particular, politicians should be expected to be more tolerant of media criticism, and the limits of acceptable criticism are much wider as regards a politician as such than a private individual. Besides, the ECHR attaches importance to the extent that the piece about a politician harms his/her political or professional career. The issue on the proportionality of material sanctions imposed by the court is also significant. In the given case, according to the Council, the sum for compensation and court expenses, demanded by the plaintiff, are not commensurate to the damage caused. Supposedly, this sum exceeds the incomes of the respondent and obviously runs counter to the Order for determining reasonable fees for attorney service on defamation cases, recently approved by the RA Chamber of Advocates (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 15-21, 2011).
Thus, the Council on Information Disputes came to a conclusion: the court must take into consideration that the majority of the contested expressions are value judgments. As regards the phrases that may be viewed as statement of facts, the court decision will depend on the proofs provided by the respondent.