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José Angel Patitó v. Diario La Nación

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    June 24, 2008
  • Outcome
    Acquittal
  • Case Number
    Fallos: 331:1530
  • Region & Country
    Argentina, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, Constitutional Law, International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Defamation / Reputation
  • Tags
    Public Officials, False News, Publisher, Public Interest, Libel

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice held that higher protections should be granted to news outlets in defamation claims by public officials. The court adopted the “actual malice” standard, first promulgated in New York Times v. Sullivan, to prevent self-censorship of the press and ensure the public’s right to information. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspaper, denied its liability for the information provided, and revoked the sentence under appeal.


Facts

The applicants, members of the Forensic Medical Corps of the Judiciary, claimed their honor had been tarnished by libelous articles from the newspaper La Nación. The articles and an editorial, which concerned an ongoing investigation on the corps’ functioning, depicted the conduct of its members as illegal—information that was later determined to be false.


Decision Overview

Por mayoría (Majority Opinion). The Argentine Supreme Court understood that the protection of the public’s right to information must be granted greater weight when balancing it with certain individual afflictions. To reach this verdict, the Court used the doctrine of actual malice first established by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which stated that in order to maintain a genuine flow of information necessary for a democratic system to survive, journalists are not required to confirm the truthfulness of the information obtained when public officials are involved. US, Fed., New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). The affected individual must prove that the entity distributed the incorrect facts with willful malice, meaning with knowledge that the information was false or with reckless disregard to the information’s falsity.

This doctrine serves to prevent self-censorship by the press, allowing it to exercise its right to freedom of expression and protecting the public’s right to information. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspaper, denied its liability for the information provided, and revoked the sentence under appeal.

The Attorney General and Justices Highton de Nolasco and Petracchi, in their individual but concurring opinions, highlighted the distinction between the expression of opinions and facts. Their concurring opinions stressed that opinions on public affairs cannot be restricted, and because opinions may not be verified as truthful or false, the doctrine of actual malice should not apply them. Only facts can be presented erroneously, and only then is the standard of actual malice to be applied. Justice Maqueda noted the relevance of public officials’ ability to access the media on their own account, and therefore independently address expressions made about their persona.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

The Court continued its protection of the right to freedom of expression when the activity of public officials is the subject of the information distributed.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Related International and/or regional laws

  • IACtHR, Herrera Ulloa v. Costa Rica, ser. C No. 107 (2004)
  • IACtHR, Compulsory Membership in an Association Prescribed by Law for the Practice of Journalism, ser. A No. 5 (1985)
  • ECtHR, The Sunday Times v. United Kingdom, App. No. 6538/74 (1979)
  • ECtHR, Barthold v. Germany, App. No. 8734/79 (1985)
  • ECtHR, Lingens v. Austria, App. No. 9815/82 (1986)

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Arg., Sup., Diego Rodolfo Gorvein v. Juan H. Amarilla, Fallos: 321:2558 (1998)
  • Arg., Sup., Fernando Andrés Burlando v. Diario El Sol de Quilmes, Fallos: 326:145 (2003)
  • Arg., Sup., Spinosa Melo v. Bartolomé Mitre, Fallos: 329:3775 (2006)
  • Arg., Sup., Liliana E. Sciammaro v. Diario El Sol, Fallos: 330:3685 (2007)
  • Arg., Sup., Omar Jesús Cancela v. Artear S.A.I., Fallos: 321:2637 (1998)
  • Arg., Sup., Jorge Antonio Vago v. Ediciones de la Urraca S.A., Fallos: 314:1517 (1991)
  • Arg., Const. Nac. Article 14
  • Arg., Const. Nac. Article 19

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)
  • U.S., Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974)
  • U.S., Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990)
  • U.S., Ollman v. Evans, 750 F.2d 970 (1984)
  • U.S., Cianci v. New Times Pub'g Co., 639 F.2d 54 (1980)
  • Spain, STC 6/1988
  • Ger., 1 BvR 460/72 (12/07/1976)
  • Ger., 1 BvR 1531/96 (11/10/1998)

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

The decision was cited in:

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