On October 26, the Council on Information Disputes adopted an expert conclusion regarding the court rulings on the suit of Nver Poghosian, former Governor of Gegharkunik region, versus founder of “Zhoghovurd” daily, “Editorial Office of ‘Zhoghovurd’ Newspaper” LLC, and the newspaper’s correspondent Anna Torosian. As we have reported, the then-Governor of Gegharkunik Nver Poghosian contested the piece “The Governor Took a Bribe”, published in “Zhoghovurd” on October 7, 2011. The plaintiff demanded refutation of the discrediting information, as well as a compensation of 2,5 mln AMD (over $ 6,500): 2 mln – for moral damage, and 500,000 – court costs. The Court of General Jurisdiction of Gegharkunik started hearing the case on November 17, 2011. On November 28, 2011 founder of “Zhoghovurd” filed a counter-suit on the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation, demanding apologies from the Governor and compensation of 1 luma, the smallest Armenian currency. On March 20, 2012 the Court revoked the counter-suit and partially sustained the claim of Nver Poghosian. The Court obliged “Zhoghovurd” to publish a refutation, cutting the ex-Governor’s financial claims to 200,000 AMD – by 100,000 from each, the moral loss and court costs. The founder of “Zhoghovurd” contested this ruling at the RA Civil Court of Appeals, which upheld the ruling of the court of first instance, on September 6, 2012 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 7-13, 2012).
In its conclusion, the Council on Information Disputes noted that the contested piece concerned an issue of acute public concern – an alleged corruptness of a public official. As such, the journalist and the media outlet are under the special protection of the right to free expression, if they have acted in good faith, in accordance with the norms of journalistic ethics. The IDC finds that when publishing the disputed article “Zhoghovurd” daily used a proper information source and undertook all possible measures to check the truthfulness of the information. However, the courts did not take into account the principle of fair comment, which resulted in an incomplete court examination. Regarding the moral damage and its size, the IDC stressed that the courts had taken into account, amongst other circumstances, the plaintiff’s public position as an authority representative. When defining the need and amount of damage compensation, the courts should not be led by the plaintiff’s public position. Such an approach is non-democratic, the IDC considered.
The full expert conclusion of the Information Disputes Council is available in Armenian and in English at http://www.ypc.am/expert/ln/eng.