On December 9, the Information Disputes Council released an opinion regarding the court ruling on the defamation lawsuit filed by 16 NGO representatives versus the founder of “Iravunk” newspaper, “Iravunk Media” LLC, and the newspaper Chief Editor Hovhannes Galajian.
As we have reported, the reason for the class action was the homophobic piece by Hovhannes Galajian “They Serve the Interests of the International Homosexual Lobby: Black List of Enemies of the Nation and the State”, published in “Iravunk” on May 17, 2014. The piece presented the “black list of traitors of the nation” – “lobbyists of homosexuals, aggressively trying to impose their rules in our country”, and contained links to their Facebook pages. The plaintiffs demanded refutation of the defamatory information and compensation for the damage caused by libel and insult in the amount of 5 million AMD (about 9,000 Euros).
On October 30, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan not only dismissed the lawsuit, but also ruled that plaintiffs have to pay 300,000 AMD (approximately 580 euros) to reimburse lawyer fees of their opponents (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 27 – November 2, 2014).
In its opinion the Information Disputes Council referred to the justification of the court ruling. The court noted that even though the disputed piece contained some exaggeration that could have shocked and disturbed the plaintiffs, in general, it was presented in a balanced manner. For this reason the court found that the feed of information in the piece “does not exceed the acceptable limits of journalistic freedom”, and the content of the piece was driven by “the supremacy of the public interest”.
According to the IDC, “the piece voiced the expressions and appeals, which are manifestation of extremism and hate speech”. However, the court did not take into account this circumstance, although it was clearly pointed to in the lawsuit. The IDC does not put the right of the author to freedom of expression under question, but emphasizes that “no mechanism of freedom of speech protection applies to hate speech”.
The IDC believes that “zero tolerance”, referred to by the author in his piece, as well as its general context, calling to show absolute intolerance to specific individuals up to the segregation of them, is incompatible with democratic values, the rule of law and civil solidarity, provided for in the Constitution of Armenia.
The specific problem is that in this case the media outlet was not only a platform for the dissemination of hate speech but its author. The other problem is that the author of piece is the person determining the editorial policy. This attribute provides him both with the additional rights and with the responsibility to comply with the Constitution, laws, and norms of journalistic ethics in his professional activities, the IDC concluded.