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Court overturns gag order against "Dnevnik" newspaper

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 8 October 2009 - Lawyers representing Slovene daily Dnevnik on Wednesday received notification of a Ljubljana Court of Appeal decision overturning a gag order imposed on the newspaper earlier this year.

The gag order, implemented on 6 August, followed articles printed in Dnevnik in July suggesting an Italian businessman's involvement in corruption.

Lawyers representing the businessman claimed that the newspaper had damaged his reputation, and filed a civil defamation lawsuit.

They also managed to obtain a court order banning the newspaper from making any further "indications" that the businessman's character was in any way "controversial" until the lawsuit was complete, in effect preventing the newspaper from reporting on potential issues of public interest.

The penalty for breaching the ban was an automatic €50,000 fine, increasing to a maximum of €500,000 for each subsequent breach.

The International Press Institute had repeatedly expressed concern at the gag order.

A Ljubljana district court rejected Dnevnik's first appeal against the blanket injunction on 4 September, prompting the newspaper to take the matter to the Ljubljana Court of Appeal.

On 30 September, the Ljubljana Court of Appeal found the injunction "too broad" and "too invasive of freedom of expression."

The appeal court held that Dnevnik "reported on a topic which was of importance to the public," and that "if Dnevnik published incomplete information," the businessman could "exercise his right of reply."

Commenting on the court's decision, Ervin Hladnik Milharcic, a correspondent at Dnevnik, told IPI: "We have been following with concern Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's legislative proposal that would prevent journalists writing about past encounters between businessmen and politicians, and, that once these (politicians) have 'served their time,' journalists should be limited in their ability to report on them.

"We were truly shocked that the Slovenian courts interpreted our laws as if such was already in place here, and that what you may be permitted to write could depend literally on the opinion of one judge - regardless of whether or not the reporting was factual.

"This was the really worrying aspect of the temporary injunction, but now we're back to business, where we report and the courts can then decide whether or not it is libel."

IPI Director David Dadge said: "We are glad that the Ljubljana Court of Appeal has recognised the very real threat the temporary court injunction posed to freedom of the media. We hope this decision will serve as a benchmark for future cases, so that other Slovene newspapers are not made to endure the pressure exerted on Dnevnik over recent months."

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