Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Mixed Outcome
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After Jorge Warley, an Argentine blogger, published an article authored by a third party that criticized the performance of Ariel Sujarchuk in his capacity as a public official, Sujarchuk filed suit against Warley for defamation. However, because the act of a blogger displaying the work of another author—when that work has been correctly attributed as such—cannot translate into the responsibility of the blogger, Warley could not be held liable.
Ariel Bernardo Sujarchuk, the Sub-Secretary of Institutional Relations and Communication at the University of Buenos Aires, brought a case against a journalist, Jorge Alberto Warley, for having posted on his blog, Desde el aula, an article authored by Marcos Britos that contained unfavorable comments about Sujarchuk’s work in his public position. Sujarchuk also condemned Warley’s alteration of Britos’ title to label him “sinister.”
The First and Appellate tribunals both considered Sujarchuk’s assertion by distinguishing between opinions and insults. Opinions are protected as a basis for liability on the ground that they are incapable of affecting a public official’s honor; however, those expressions that are disconnected from the information being published and have solely an insulting purpose, or signify an unjustified lesion to a person’s dignity or an institution’s prestige, are not.
The lower courts found that the second configuration was present in the case at hand after considering the definition of the word “sinister” and the content of the article. They also held that the Campillay doctrine was not applicable because the reproduction of Britos’ writings was not neutral and that the “actual malice” doctrine did not apply because its protections do not extend to insulting expressions.
This case reached the Supreme Court of Argentina following an opinion from the Attorney General that stated that criticism of a public official’s performance, even when expressed in an aggressive or harsh tone, must not be subjected to liability. The Attorney General asserted that the Campillay doctrine did, in fact, apply in this case, since the publication was merely a faithful reproduction of another man’s writings. He found that because Warley had noted this, he was released from all potential liability.
In regards to the addition of the word “sinister,” the Attorney General reasoned that it had been simply intended to reflect the content and argued that greater tolerance for indecorous words against public officials should be granted in order to protect freedom of expression. The Court adopted the Attorney General’s position and, therefore, revoked the earlier sentence against Warley, finding him not liable for defamation.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
In this case, the Supreme Court protected freedom of expression, even those expressions that might be harmful, which is concert with the Court’s jurisprudence and with global standards, and applied the established Campillay doctrine to solve the issue of a blogger posting another author’s work.
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.
The Supreme Court of Argentina decides cases on an individual basis, and its case law does not create binding precedents. However, the Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, and, as such, its decisions are highly persuasive.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.