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ECHR challenges application of law on libel and defamation in case against radio journalist, programme coordinator

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 20 July 2007 media release from the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), an IFJ affiliate:

EFJ Welcomes European Court Victory Over Greek Defamation Case

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European group of the International Federation of Journalists, today welcomed the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the application of the Greek law on libel and defamation.

"The Greek interpretation of a law making journalists responsible for the declarations and opinions of people taking part in controversial programmes poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in Greece," said the EFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "Some media will refrain from hosting topical and important debates for fear of being held liable. The decision of the European Court of Human Rights is a victory for press freedom."

On 5 July 2007, the Strasbourg-based Court ruled in the Lionarakis v. Greece case that the Greek decision holding the journalist and coordinator of a radio programme liable for the statements of a speaker intervening during his programme was in breach of freedom of expression.

Mr Lionarakis was a journalist, coordinator and presenter of a radio programme on politics broadcast live on public radio ERT. In 1999, during a debate on Greek foreign policy, a speaker criticised certain public personalities. Mr Lionarakis was held liable for insult and defamation on the ground that, as the coordinator of the programme, he should have prevented or at least interrupted the expression of the controversial statements. He had to pay a fine of over 41,000 euros.

The European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that there had been a violation of articles 6?1 (right to a fair hearing) and 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention of Human Rights. It considered that the journalist and coordinator of a live programme on politics could not be held liable in the same way than the person who had made the defamatory statement. The Court also criticized the minimum threshold for compensation contained in the Greek law.

"Our Greek colleagues have rightly denounced a law which leads many journalists to court and facing harsh fines," added White. "This decision is a landmark victory for Greek journalism and for free expression throughout Europe."

The EFJ represents over 260,000 journalists in more than 30 countries.

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