On June 27 the Council on Information Disputes released its second expert judgment on a 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 second expert judgment of the Council was rendered upon its own initiative and deals with the suit of Tigran Arzakantsian, RA National Assembly MP, member of Republican Party of Armenia faction, versus founder of “Yerkir” daily, “’Yerkir’ Editorial Office” LLC.
As it has been reported, the reason of the suit became the piece about Tigran Arzakantsian, appeared in “Yerkir” on January 13, 2011 within the column “131 Faces and the Masks” (the given cycle presents the Armenian MPs in alphabetical order). The plaintiff demanded to refute the information discrediting his honor and dignity, oblige the daily to publish the court decision on the case, exact 3 million AMD (about $ 8,200) from the respondent as a compensation for libel and defamation, as well as compensate the court expenses of 568,000 AMD. On June 8 court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts of Yerevan secured the suit of Tigran Arzakantsian partially, obliging “Yerkir” to publish in the newspaper the operative part of the judgment, pay 200,000 AMD as a compensation for insult, as well as pay off the court expenses of 88,000 AMD (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 3-9, 2011).
As mentioned in the Council’s 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 cycle “131 Faces and the Masks” is of public interest as it presents the RA NA MPs, their biographies, work duties and financial situation. As regards the piece on Tigran Arzakantsian, it has a humorous nature assuming some exaggerations which presumes a higher level of protection of freedom of speech, the Council notes.
The expressions of the piece, contested by the NA deputy and criticizing him, are overall value judgments made by the piece author (which are not subject to prove pursuant to the case law of European Court of Human Rights), or are factual data based on expressions, interviews of Tigran Arzakantsian, pieces and information about him from other media, the Council mentions.
As regards one of the article’s expressions which quotes the former RA Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian and contains the offensive word “cub”, the Council finds that the fact, whether the journalist had indicated the source from which he had picked up the quotation, is the most essential. In this case this was not done. Meanwhile, the plaintiff had presented the written statement of Hrant Bagratian who denied telling anything like this. The expert judgment notes that this fact could permit to assert about a deliberate humiliation of dignity, which is one of the components of the “insult” notion. At the same time, the Council emphasizes that the publication of above-mentioned statement of Hrant Bagratian in “Yerkir” daily cannot be considered as a due refutation, as it does not correspond to legislative requirements prescribed for refutation.
Thus, the Council on Information Disputes concluded that the majority of the argued expressions of the article are value judgments or are based on factual data which are not subject for court proceedings. The Council emphasizes that the court intervention has to be commensurate to the damage caused, should take into account the factual background of the case, the financial situation of the media and the ECHR case law. Therefore, the compensation of 200,000 AMD defined by court for the offensive word “cub” is disproportionate, as well as the initial demand of the plaintiff of 3 million AMD. The Court could have limited by obliging the newspaper to publish an apology for the expression with reference to Hrant Bagratian. As for the court expenses, the Council found that the amount determined is reasonable.