Journalist cleared of the charges under Article 212. She had the right to speak her mind
The District Court in Zabrze cleared an editor of the website Zabrzanie.pl of the charge of defaming the local director of the House of Music and Dance. Delivering the verbal reasons for the judgement, the court found that to declare the journalist guilty would be to violate the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and norms of the democratic state ruled by law.
By way of reminder, the case concerned the statement of Gracjana Chojnacka for TV Silesia, made on 21 December 2009, in which she said that she had smelled alcohol on the breath of director W.Ś. during the ‘Music Summer’ event held in Zabrze. He appeared intoxicated to her, which explained his brusque and aggressive attitude towards her and her photographers team and ultimate expulsion from the event.
W.Ś. brought a private accusation against the journalist under Article 212 of the Criminal Code. In his judgement, the judge Adam Krukowski highlighted that the collected evidence bore no indication of any intention on the part of the defendant to insult the private complainant. He also noted that the defendant made it explicit in her statement that it was her private opinion based on her personal impressions.
This part of the court’s opinion is compliant with the established case-law of the ECHR, which allows for a greater margin of tolerance with respect to statements of opinion, as compared with factual statements. At the same time, the ECHR puts much emphasis on making a careful distinction in the court proceedings between facts and value-judgements and underscores that existence of facts can be demonstrated and thus they can be verified as either true or false (see, for example Lingens v. Austria)