Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that Romania violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) when it denied a journalist access to public documents concerning the use of public funds. The court recognized the journalist tried to acquire information to contribute to a debate on a topic of interest to Romanians, and a denial of access to records requires 1) a statute permitting the denial, and 2) that law pursues a legitimate aim under ECHR Article 10(2) which the government failed to prove.
Ioan Romeo Roşiianu, a Romanian journalist, had been hosting a news show on a regional channel for six years when, in January 2005, he was fired and his show cancelled. Among other issues, the show had been discussing the use of public funds by the mayor of Baia Mare. The program was replaced with a show funded by a municipality of the town.
Roşiianu requested access to public documents concerning the use of public funds, as provided by Romanian law and Article 10 of the ECHR. The mayor of Baia Mare rejected such requests and, subsequently, failed to comply with tribunal sentences ordering him to hand over the documents. The Court of Appeal in Cluj, in reinstating the order, also required that Baia Mare’s mayor pay compensation to Roşiianu.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recognized that Roşiianu had tried to acquire information from the public authorities in order to contribute to an informed debate on a topic of great interest to society, namely, the use of public funds by the mayor of Baia Mare. The ECtHR stressed that when the information sought is available, access can be denied only in cases established by law and when the limitation pursues a legitimate aim under Article 10(2) of the ECHR. Because there were no adequate grounds for the denial of Roşiianu’s request, to have done so amounted to a violation of his right to access information as protected under Article 10(1) of the ECHR.
Roşiianu was granted compensation for moral damages, and, additionally, the ECtHR found that the municipality’s failure to comply with Romanian tribunals’ orders constituted a violation of his right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the ECHR.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
With this decision, the ECtHR reaffirmed that the freedom to receive information under Article 10 of the ECHR includes the right to access information that is of public interest and that national authorities cannot unreasonably deny such requests.
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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