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SCAT Airlines v. Sergei Vitalevich Kim

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    December 18, 2015
  • Outcome
    Acquittal
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Kazakhstan, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Defamation / Reputation
  • Tags
    Criminal Defamation, Libel

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Journalist Sergei Vitalevich Kim wrote a story on RadioTochka.kz, an online news platform, about SCAT Airlines, Kazakhstan’s largest air carrier company. The story explained how the airline is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world. The company later sued the journalist for criminal defamation with intent to harm its business reputation. It also sought the article to be redacted with an official apology published on RadioTochka.

Kazakhstan’s court of first instance acquitted Kim, finding that his article was based on verified factual allegations and that he lacked intent to undermine the airline’s business reputation. It ordered the airline to pay Kim 300,000 Tenge (approximately $900 USD) for court costs.


Facts

Journalist Sergei Vitalevich Kim wrote an article titled “For six months already SCAT Airlines has been considered one of the most dangerous in the world,” which was published on Radiotochka.kz on June 17, 2015. The article stated that based on a rating prepared by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) every two years, the Kazakh company SCAT has been considered one of the 10 most dangerous airlines out of 500.

The company claimed that the information published in the article was false and in response, it presented a letter from IATA, stating that it does not conduct any official surveys on airline safety. Additionally, the airline alleged that after the article’s publication, it experienced a mass return of its sold tickets and suffered a severe financial loss as a result.

Subsequently, SCAT requested RadioTochka to redact the article. The publisher then published an objection letter from the airline’s official representative but refused to redact the article, stating that it followed legal norms and ethics in its work.

The airline also brought a criminal defamation action against Kim under Article 130(2) of Kazakhstan Criminal Code, which punishes intentional dissemination of false information that causes significant harm to business reputation.

Kim defended his article and explained that it was based on two pieces of factual assertions. First, SCAT Airlines was one of ten companies around the world rated by AirlineRatings to have with only one safety star out of seven. Second, one of the company’s planes caught on fire at an airport in Aktau City on June 16, 2015, a day before the article’s publication.

As to the airline’s letter from IATA, Kim explained that he initially cited a rating prepared by IATA as a source for the negative assessment of the airline. However, on June 18, 2015, after a phone call from the airline’s representative, RadioTochka amended the article and changed the source to AirlineRatings.com. It also included an editorial note, stating that it had mistakenly cited IATA as the source of the rating report. Kim further clarified that AirlineRatings is a certified user of IOSA, an audit system created by IATA. Kim also argued that he did not intend to defame the airline and had no desire to cause financial harm.


Decision Overview

First, the court outlined the required elements of criminal defamation. It explained that there are objective and subjective elements to the crime. The objective element focuses on the dissemination of false information with the knowledge of its falsity and that defames an individual’s honor and dignity or it undermines business reputation. The subjective element concerns the intent to defame. The court emphasized that a motive to defame varies and may include jealousy, revenge or desire to harm. However, a good faith error about the truth of a statement may protect an individual from liability.

The court further clarified that defamation includes any statement that derogates honor and dignity of a citizen, and undermines his or her reputation in the society as an observer of law, rules of general behavior, or universal morality.

In applying the above standards, the court took into account the testimonies provided by Kim’s editors, evidencing the lack of intent to harm the airline’s business reputation. The court also noted that his mistake in identifying the source of information in his article did not amount to a defamatory statement because it neither undermined the overall findings of the article and did not cast a doubt on the veracity of the information. In addition, the recent incident of the airline’s plane in Aktau City was confirmed by its representative in court.

As to the alleged financial loss suffered by the company, the court pointed out that it did not receive proof of any mass return of sold tickets or registered complaints from entities about refusal to use the airline.

Accordingly, the court acquitted Kim of criminal defamation.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

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

Expands Expression

Here, the court applied though legal analysis that led to an acquittal of a journalist in a lawsuit brought by a major corporation. The case showcases the court’s ability to conduct a proper review, if willing.

Global Perspective

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

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Kaz., Criminal Code, art. 130(2)

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.

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:


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