Tag Archives | defamation

EU Holds News Website Liable for Anonymous Comments

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 3.10.14 PMLast week, the European Union held an Estonian news website liable for anonymous comments posted by third parties on its site.

The EU case concerned a 2006 article published on the Estonian news site Delfi. The article was about changes to a Northern Europe ferry company’s travel routes. Because the route alterations would cause delay and make traveling more expensive, a number of angry commentators left “highly threatening or threatening posts” in response to the article.

The owner of the ferry company sued Delfi for defamation and was awarded €320, or $433 in USD. Delfi, arguing that it was not responsible for the comments, appealed to the EU.

The EU recently upheld the Estonian court’s judgment, holding that the website’s freedom of expression rights, governed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, were not violated by the ruling. The EU court explained that freedom of expression rights may be interfered in order to protect an individual’s reputation so long as the intervention is “proportionate to the circumstances.”

In analyzing whether intervention is proportionate to the circumstances, the EU analyzed four issues: (1) the context of the posts; (2) steps taken to prevent publication of defamatory comments; (3) whether the authors of the posts could be made liable for their posts; and (4) the consequences of holding Delfi liable. In concluding its analysis, the EU court held that the lower court’s ruling was justified and proportionate to interference with Delfi’s Article 10 rights.

Samantha Scheller is a 2L at UNC Law.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user MPD01605 pursuant to a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.)

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Symposium will contemplate 50 years of press freedom

Almost 50 years ago, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., writing for the Supreme Court, expressed “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

Tomorrow, the UNC First Amendment Law Review will bring together media law experts to reflect on and debate just how free the press has been to cover and criticize public officials since the landmark ruling in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which established the “actual malice” test. Under the test, a public official suing for libel must prove that defamatory content was published with “knowledge of falsity” or “reckless disregard for the truth.”

As a result of “New York Times Actual Malice,” the press and the public are free to criticize government officials’ and public figures’ job performance, scrutinize their personal lives, and even attack their character.

Some think the Court went too far when it held that falsity was not enough to make a speaker liable for defaming a public official. Others say it hasn’t gone far enough and should protect the publication of any false content when reporting on matters of public controversy.

The First Amendment Law Review Symposium will consist of two panels of First Amendment and media law scholars including:

  • Vincent Blasi, Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties at Columbia Law School
  • Bruce Brown, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • Ronald Cass, Dean Emeritus of Boston University School of Law
  • Stuart Benjamin, Douglas B. Maggs Chair in Law at Duke Law
  • George Wright, Michael McCormick Professor of Law at Indiana University
  • Ashley Messenger, Associate General Counsel for National Public Radio

The event will begin with a keynote address from Ken Paulson, President and CEO of the First Amendment Law Center, followed by a 30 minute Q&A.  The morning panel will then examine the impact of the Sullivan decision on the media, while the afternoon panel will discuss its broader implications on First Amendment jurisprudence.

Visit the event page for more information.

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