Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, The Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic
H.E. Iurie Leanca
Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration
Deputy Prime Minister
Republic of Moldova
I write to share my concern over the large damage award in a civil defamation court case against the independent weekly Ziarul de Garda. The newspaper was found liable to pay 500,000 Mdl (approximately 30,000 EUR) by the Central Court of Chisinau for an article published in February 2011 about two district prosecutors allegedly involved in corruption.
The newspaper has three weeks to appeal since Court’s judgment of 1 August 2011. If the judgement is satisfied the paper may close. Moreover, the newspaper fears that in order to secure the funds its accounts may be blocked until the final decision.
Excessive fines can have grave consequences to media freedom in Moldova, as they tend to limit the pluralism of the press. I stress the importance of putting a ceiling to the financial burden that can be levied on media outlets in order to ensure that the punishment does not lead to bankruptcy, and thus cannot weaken media pluralism in your country. I welcome the fact that Moldova is one of the few countries in the OSCE region that decriminalised defamation.
However, high civil damage awards should not be used to silence media.
While making a decision on this particular case, the Moldovan judges should take into account Council of Europe standards and the OSCE commitments of your country:
– The amount of damages awarded to plaintiffs in civil defamation cases should be proportionate to the inflicted harm and should never lead to bankruptcy and closure of media outlets;
– In civil cases, reasonable limits should be introduced – by law or by precedent – for amounts of damages;
– The public status of plaintiffs should be taken into account when sanctioning a media outlet. Public figures should tolerate a much higher decree of criticism and even inaccurate facts reported about them than ordinary individuals. By choosing to act as public servants, they knowingly put themselves in the limelight of public life and should be open to scrutiny by the media;
– Media should not be liable for publishing statements or quotes by identifiable persons, or for reporting on events. Legal procedures may only be initiated against the authors of these statements and quotes, not against the media for merely reproducing them.
These standards are vital for investigative journalism in a democratic society. Issues of corruption discussed in the article in question present an important topic that the public has a right to know about.
I hope that the appeal of the newspaper will be considered in a swift and fair method.
My Office stands ready to assist Moldova in meeting its OSCE media freedom commitments.
Availing myself of this opportunity, please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.