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Reforms to protect free speech after journalists sued

Eerikäinen and Others v. Finland  | 2009

Reforms to protect free speech after journalists sued

The general subject matter which was at the heart of the article concerned – namely, the abuse of public funds – was a matter of legitimate public interest...

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, February 2009

Background

Matti Paloaro and Pentti Eerikäinen were journalists. They published an article about the prosecution of a businesswoman, who was accused of deceiving the Social Insurance Institution and insurance companies. The businesswoman was later convicted of fraud and sentenced to almost two years in prison.  

Before her conviction, the businesswoman sued the journalists. The Finnish courts upheld her claim, finding that the journalists had invaded her privacy by revealing her identity as someone charged with fraud. The journalists were made to pay the businesswoman the equivalent of 3,364 euros in damages, as well as legal costs.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court of Human Rights ruled that the journalists’reporting had been based on facts about public legal proceedings. It had concerned a matter of legitimate public interest - the abuse of public funds. The journalists had clearly stated that the businesswoman had only been accused, and not that she had been guilty.

The Court concluded that, by ordering them to pay damages and without providing sufficient justification, the Finnish courts had violated the journalists’ right to free speech.

Follow-up

In October 2013, changes were made to Finnish law, designed to take into account the case law of the European Court of Human Rights on free speech.

Reforms in this area are still being monitored by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.