Lingens v Austria [1986], (9815/82) ECHR

Human Right, Defamation, Austrian Chancellor, Article 10, ECHR,

 

Lingens v Austria [1986] concerned a violation of Article 10 of the ECHR on account of the conviction of a journalist on charges of defamation.

 

The case summary contains 390 words.

Keywords:

Media Law – Human rights – Conviction of journalist – Defamation – Austrian Chancellor – Article 10 – ECHR – Freedom of expression – Violation

Facts:

In Lingens v Austria [1986], the applicant, a journalist, published two articles where he criticized the Austrian Chancellor. The Austrian Chancellor brought private prosecutions against the applicant under Articles 111 and 112 of the Austrian Criminal Code. The Austrian Court convicted the applicant of the offence of defamation and imposed a fine.

The applicant brought his case before the European Court of Human Rights. He argued that his conviction for defamation breached his freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR.

Issue:

Whether there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention?

Held:

Alleged violation of Article 10

At the outset, the Court found that conviction amounted to an interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of expression. Such interference could be justified if it was “prescribed by law” and “necessary in a democratic society” in pursuit of a legitimate aim. The Court held that the interference was prescribed by law and pursued and pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the reputation of others.

In the present case, a major discussion concerned whether the interference with the applicant’s right was “necessary in a democratic society”. In particular, the Court held that the freedom of expression enshrined in paragraph 1 of Article 10 constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress. The applicant’s articles contained certain undignified expressions which could harm Austrian Chancellor’s reputation. Also, the articles concerned heated political issues of public interest in Austria surrounding the participation of former Nazis in the governance of the country. The Court explained that the applicant’s opinions expressed in his articles were value judgments and the Austrian authorities erred by requesting the applicant to establish the truth of these statements. Thus, the interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of expression was not necessary and proportionate,

To sum up, the Court concluded that the conviction of a journalist for defamation breached Article 10 of the ECHR.

See the full text of the judgment here.

References: [1986] 7 WLUK 66; (1986) 8 E.H.R.R. 407.

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