Content Regulation / Censorship, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention, Defamation / Reputation
Hegglin v. Google
Closed Expands Expression
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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Italy violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) when it upheld a television producer’s conviction for showing images from an illicitly taped video interview. The court acknowledged the producer’s conduct was proscribed by Italian law and legitimately justified under Article 10(2) of the ECHR, but held that the punishment – a €30,000 fine and a four month term of imprisonment – was disproportionate to the producer’s conduct.
The District Court of Milan sentenced Antonio Ricci to four months and five days imprisonment after he was found guilty of broadcasting on his television show images that had been illicitly taken from a video recorded by public broadcasting company, RAI. The video in question featured philosopher Gianni Vattimo engaged in an argument with another guest and subsequently showed the presenter complaining that the footage could not be aired because Vattimo had not given consent. According the to presenter, the two guests had been brought together on the show to argue with one another. The Court also ordered Ricci to pay €30,000 in compensation to the philosopher, who claimed that his privacy had been violated.
The Appeals Court and the Court of Cassation upheld Ricci’s conviction but declared the crime time-barred, and, therefore, Ricci was never imprisoned. Ricci, nevertheless, brought his case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), claiming that the sentence violated Article 10 of the ECHR. He asserted that images from the video were shown to document how modern television privileges sensational images over the quality of television programs, an argument that touches upon important social issues.
The ECtHR ruled that Italy had violated Ricci’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR. According to the ECtHR, Ricci’s conviction represented an interference with his right to freedom of expression because the punishment inflicted was not considered proportionate to the aims pursued by the state. Even though interference was prescribed by law and legitimately justified by the need to protect confidentiality and the reputation of others, the undue harshness of the sentencing could not overcome the proportionality requirement. The ECtHR further noted that such sentences could potentially discourage journalists from informing the public on matters of general interest.
At the same time, the ECtHR rejected Ricci’s request for compensation on the basis that the judgment in his favor would provide satisfaction in that respect. Judge Karakaş presented a dissenting opinion, claiming that Italian tribunals had correctly balanced the seriousness of the crime with the freedom of expression of the accused and arguing that the prison sentence was justified.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
With this judgment, the ECtHR confirmed the general principle that states should avoid inflicting sanctions that discourage the media from fulfilling its role as “watchdogs.” Within this domain, prison sentences are generally regarded as disproportionate by the ECtHR and should only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
ECtHR judgments are binding on the parties before it.
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