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Regional Conference on Defamation and Freedom of Expression
Strasbourg, 17-18 October 2002
Press Room, Human Rights Building, Council of Europe

Thanks to a financial contribution by the Government of Luxembourg and within the framework of its Stability Pact Programme, the Media Division of the Council of Europe organised a Regional conference on defamation and freedom of expression focusing on South-East European countries. The conference took place on 17 and 18 October 2002 in Strasbourg, in the Human Rights Building of the Council of Europe.

See more information, including videos and reports

Among the topics discussed were:

    - defamation: the concept and the legal framework according to European standards;
    - overview of relevant South-East European legislation;
    - defamation of public figures;
    - excessive penalties and their effect on free speech;
    - the responsibility of journalists;
    - towards an improved defamation legislation and journalism practice in South-Eastern Europe.

The participants from South-Eastern Europe were judges, lawyers, members of Parliament, journalists or other media experts, who are dealing specifically with the issue of defamation.

Additional resources:

- Programme
- List of participants
- Conclusions

* * *

PROGRAMME

Thursday, 17 October 2002

9:00

Registration of participants

 

Opening of the conference

Ms Maud de BOER-BUQUICCHIO, Deputy Secretary General, Council of Europe
Ms Anne KAYSER, Deputy to the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the Council of Europe
Mr Christos L. ROZAKIS, Vice-President, Judge, European Court of Human Rights

SESSION 1

Defamation – the concept and the legal framework according to European standards

10:00

Defamation - the concept of the legal protection of the honour and reputation of a person

Moderator:

Mr Alexander VLADYCHENKO, Director of Directorate II in the General Directorate of Human Rights, Council of Europe
Speaker:

Mr Geoffrey ROBERTSON QC, Lawyer, Doughty Street Chambers, London

 

Discussion

11:00

Coffee break

SESSION 2:

Defamation law and practice in South-Eastern Europe – principles, problems, new developments

11:30

Defamation – overview of relevant South-East European legislation

Moderator: Mr Christophe POIREL, Head of Media Division, DG II, Council of Europe
Speaker: Mr Peter NOORLANDER, Legal Officer, Article XIX

 

Discussion

13:00

Lunch break

15:00

Defamation of public figures - excessive penalties and their effect on free speech

Moderator: Mr Alexander IVANKO, Senior Adviser to the Representative on Freedom of the Media, OSCE
Speakers: Ms Vesna ALABURIC, Attorney-at-Law, Croatia and
Mr Gent IBRAHIMI, Executive Director, Institute for Policy and Legal Studies, Albania

 

Discussion

17:30

End of the first day

18 October 2002

SESSION 3:

Defamation law and practice in South-Eastern Europe – principles, problems, new developments (continued)

9:30

The responsibility of journalists

Moderator: Mr Yasha LANGE, Executive Secretary, Media Task Force, Stability Pact
Speaker: Mr Gojmir BERVAR, Radio Slovenija (Slovenia)

 

Discussion

11:00

Coffee break

11:30

Towards improved defamation legislation and journalism practice in South-Eastern Europe

Moderator/rapporteur: Mr Nicholas HODGSON, Legal Adviser, Lord Chancellor’s Department, United Kingdom

 

Discussion

13:00

Closure of the Conference

Mr Pierre-Henri IMBERT, Director General, Directorate General of Human Rights

The conference was transmitted live on the Internet site of the Council of Europe. Interested persons from South-Eastern Europe and other parts of the world were able to ask questions and offered their input by e-mail.

A CD recording of selected presentations and parts of the discussions has been made available after the conference.

The conference was made possible thanks to a financial contribution of the Government of Luxembourg

The seminar took place at the Council of Europe
Press room of the Human Rights building
In Strasbourg

* * *

LIST OF PARTICIPANTS

 
SPEAKERS

Ms Vesna ALABURIĆ, Attorney-at-Law, Croatia
Mr Gojmir BERVAR, Radio Slovenija, Slovenia
Mr Gent IBRAHIMI, Executive Director, Institute for Policy and Legal Studies, Albania
Ms Anne KAYSER, Deputy to the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the Council of Europe
Mr Peter NOORLANDER, Legal Officer, Article XIX
Mr Geoffrey ROBERTSON, Lawyer, United Kingdom
 
MODERATORS

Mr Alexander IVANKO, Senior Adviser to the Representative on Freedom of the Media, OSCE
Mr Yasha LANGE, Executive Secretary, Media Task Force, Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe
 
GENERAL RAPPORTEUR 

Mr Nicholas HODGSON, Legal Adviser, Lord Chancellor’s Department, United Kingdom
 
SOUTH EAST EUROPEAN COUNTRIES
 
Albania

Mr Artan HOXHA, Judge, the High Court
Mr Arben IMAMI, Former Minister of Justice, Member of the Albanian Parliament
Mr Remzi LANI, Director, Albanian Media Institute
Ms Briseida MEMA, AFP Correspondent, Chairwoman, Albanian Women in Media Association
Mr Ilir RUSMALI, Media expert, Secretary on Elections/Legal issues, Democratic Party

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mr Vlado ADAMOVIĆ, Judge, Supreme Court of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mr Mustafa BISIĆ, Prosecutor of the District of Sarajevo
Mr Emir HABUL, Journalist, Independent Union of Professional Journalists of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ms Senka NOŽICA, Lawyer
Ms Asja ROKSA, Broadcast Division Advisor, Communications Regulatory Agency

Bulgaria

Mr Boyko BOEV, Attorney-at-Law, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Ms Boriana DIMITROVA, Lecturer, IREX / ProMedia
Ms Desislava DIMITROVA, Lawyer, IREX / ProMedia
Mr Dinko KANCHEV, Lawyer, Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights
Ms Teodora STAMBOLOVA, Judge, Sofia Appeal Court

Croatia

Mr Ante GAVRANOVIĆ, President, Croatian Publishers Association
Mr Davor GLAVAŠ, Media Advisor, IREX / ProMedia
Mr Denis KULJIŠ, Journalist, Europa Press Holding 
Mr Dragutin LUCIĆ, President, Croatian Journalists’ Association
Mr Ranko MARJAN, Judge, District Court of Zagreb

Moldova

Mr Alexandru CANTIR, Chairman, Committee for the Freedom of Press
Mr Alexandru DOROGAN, Chairman, Association of Electronic Press of Moldova (APEL)
Ms Olivia PIRTAC, Lawyer, Media Law Unit Coordinator, Independent Journalism Center
Mr Mihai POALELUNGI, Judge, Vice-President of the Moldovan Appeals Court
Mr Vasile SPINEI, President, Center for Promotion of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Former Member of Parliament

Romania

Ms Ioana AVADANI, Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ms Mona MUSCA, Member, Committee on Culture, Arts and Mass Media of the House of Deputies
Mr Mihai SELEGEAN, Juridical Counsel, Ministry of Justice
Mr Mircea TOMA, Director, Media Monitoring Agency

Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Montenegro
 
Mr Saša BRAJOVIĆ, Media expert, Chairman, Media Working Group of the Stability Pact
Mr Senko ĆABARKAPA, Vice President, Association of the Journalists of Montenegro
Mr Zoran PAŽIN, Judge, Basic Court in Podgorica
Mr Dragan PRELEVIĆ, Attorney-at-Law, Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM)
 
Serbia
 
Ms Sanja ĆOSIĆ, Secretary General, NUNS (Independent Journalists Association of Serbia)
Ms Ljubica JEREMIĆ, Judge of the District Court in Novi Sad
Mr Srdjan RADOVANOVIĆ, Lawyer
Mr Srdjan SISIĆ, Lawyer
 
Guests: UNMIK - Kosovo

Mr Willem HOUWEN, Head of Independent Media Support, OSCE
Ms Anna Di LELLIO, Temporary Media Commissioner
Ms Ardita METAJ, National Legal Advisor, Temporary Media Commission, OSCE
 
“The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Mr Mersel BILJALI, Member of Parliament
Ms Nevena KRCKOVSKA-MALINKOVSKA, Judge, Appellate Court of Skopje
Mr Robert POPOVSKI, Journalist, Member of the Executive Board, Association of Journalists
Mr Dejan STANKOVSKI, Attorney at Law, Media Development Center
Mr Sterjo ZIKOV, Deputy Public Prosecutor, Skopje Basic Public Prosecutors CFF
 
OTHER INSTITUTIONS

Ms Ann-Marie BOSTROEM, Head of Regional Office, Belgrade, Swedish Helsinki Committee
Ms Dessislava DAMIANOVA, Media Programme Coordinator, Press Now
Mrs Helen DARBISHIRE, Director, Freedom of Information & Expression Program, OSI International Legal Institute
Mr Simon DREWSEN HOLMBERG, Deputy Managing Director, Baltic Media Centre
Dr Larisa EFIMOVA, Consultant, The Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, State Duma
Ms Luitgard HAMMERER, Head of Europe Programme, Article XIX
Mr Claude MOISY, Reporters sans Frontières, Member of the Executive Committee, World Press Freedom Committee
Mr Oliver MONEY-KYRLE, Director, Projects Division, International Federation of Journalists
Ms Vesna POPOSKA, Head of International Department, Agency of Information, “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”
Ms Vesna POPOVIC, Policy Desk Officer on Democratisation, Media and Civil, Society in the Western Balkans, General Direction RELEX, European Commission
Mr Marcello SCARONE, Programme Specialist, Division for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace, UNESCO
Mr Paul A. J. STAAL, Executive Director, Press Now
Mr Ognian ZLATEV, Chief Executive Officer, Media Development Center, Bulgaria; SEENPM
 
GUESTS

Ms F. BEECHER GRAHAM, United States of America
Ms Katharina BRODOCK, United States of America
Mr Jonathan BRODOCK, United States of America
Ms Irena IVANOVA, France
Ms Tania KANCHEVA, Bulgaria
Mr Basile MORATILLE, France
 
JUDGES OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Mr Christos ROZAKIS, Vice-President
Mr Corneliu BÎRSAN
Mr Stanislav PAVLOVSCHI
Mr Kristaq TRAJA
Ms Margarita TSATSA-NIKOLOVSKA
Ms Nina VAJIĆ
 
COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARIAT

Ms Maud de BOER-BUQUICCHIO, Deputy Secretary General
Mr Paul DEWAGUET, Deputy Director, Private Office of the Secretary General
Mr Pierre-Henri IMBERT, Director General of Human Rights
Mr Alexander VLADYCHENKO, Director, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mr Christophe POIREL, Head of the Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mr Ivan NIKOLTCHEV, Stability Pact Coordinator, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mr Pall THORHALLSSON, Administrative Officer, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Ms Charlotte de BROUTELLES, Administrative Officer, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mr Mario OETHEIMER, Programme Adviser, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mr Eugen CIBOTARU, Administrative Officer, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mr Ramon PRIETO SUAREZ, Administrative Officer, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Ms Lindsay YOUNGS, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Ms Lejla DERVISAGIC, Administrative Officer, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mr Vladan JOKSIMOVIĆ, Human Rights Training Programme Manager, Council of Europe Office in Belgrade
Mr Stefano VALENTI, Human Rights Co-operation and Awareness Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Ms Irène KITSOU-MILONAS, Administrator, Monitoring Department, Directorate of Strategic Planning
Mr Olivier POULIN, Trainee, Monitoring Department, Directorate of Strategic Planning
Ms Marina LAJOINIE, Assistant, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mrs Sarah BLANCHET, Assistant, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mrs Corinne SCHUHLER-GUIRAO, Assistant, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Mrs Véronique MESSANGA, Assistant, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Ms Alice ELEUTERIO, Assistant, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights
Ms Petra BURAI, Trainee, Media Division, Directorate General of Human Rights

* * *

CONCLUSIONS

 
A regional Conference on defamation and freedom of expression bringing together public officials, judges and media professionals from South-East European countries was organised by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on 17-18 October 2002 within the framework of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe.
 
At the end of the Conference, the participants noted:

1. that the laws on defamation and insult in some countries in South-Eastern Europe fail to give sufficient weight to the right to freedom of expression;

2. that even where these laws are satisfactory, the practice of implementing them often fails to give sufficient weight to the right to freedom of expression;

3. that public officials and others sometimes abuse these laws;

4. that the judiciary is not always fully independent;

5. that, in addition, the judiciary does not always follow the case law of the European Court of Human Rights concerning freedom of expression and information;

6. that the media do not always exercise responsibility in reporting;

7. that intergovernmental as well as international and national non-governmental organisations have an important role to play in encouraging the practice of the right to freedom of expression and responsible journalism.
 
Against this background, the overwhelming majority of the participants recommended:

8. that defamation and insult should be decriminalised.

Furthermore, the participants unanimously recommended:

9. that, if public authorities nevertheless decide to maintain criminal sanctions, there should be no imprisonment for defamation, a moratorium should immediately be applied where such sentences have already been handed down by national courts and financial penalties should be proportionate. Similarly, in the case of civil proceedings, compensation should be proportionate, in order not to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and information;

10. that there should be a defence of truth. There should also be a defence of fair comment where journalists have acted reasonably and in good faith;

11. that the burden of proof should in principle rest with the plaintiff in cases of defamation. Where the burden of proof is placed on the defendant, the latter should be able to be exonerated from his/her responsibility if he/she is able to provide reasonable evidence that he/she had acted reasonably and in good faith;

12. that there should be no special protection in both substantive and procedural laws or in practice for public officials (including Heads of State), in accordance with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights;

13. that alternative effective remedies to litigation, such as mediation or the publication of an apology or a correction or a reply, should be encouraged in cases of defamation and insult in order to reduce the number of lawsuits on these grounds. Where such alternative remedies are obtained, it should not be possible to have recourse to court proceedings;

14. that measures should be taken to prevent excessive litigations;

15. that training activities should be organised for judges, prosecutors and lawyers on the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights as well as its implementation at the domestic level;

16. that the media should be encouraged to take cases to the European Court of Human Rights;

17. that voluntary media codes of conduct should be drawn up and respected;

18. that dialogue between judges, politicians and media professionals should be encouraged, including at the local level, in order to promote better mutual understanding about their respective duties and responsibilities and thereby reduce the risk of litigation;

19. that intergovernmental as well as international and national non-governmental organisations should closely monitor the situation in European countries concerning the right to freedom of expression in general and defamation in particular. Non-governmental organisations should also provide legal assistance to media professionals who are prosecuted for defamation;

20. that intergovernmental as well as international and national non-governmental organisations should take or support initiatives to align defamation laws and court practice in this area with the relevant international standards, including through the training of judges, lawyers and prosecutors and the training of media professionals;

21. that intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations should take or support initiatives to promote responsible journalism through training and other activities;

22. that, in order to be more effective in their work on the above-mentioned issues, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations should establish better mechanisms for co-operation between themselves.