CoE: "Completely unknown“ actress

Gianna Iacino

On 19 January 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided that a newspaper does not need to pay damages for calling an actress "completely unknown“ (application no. 52137/12).

The plaintiff is an actress who was appointed to the subsidies advisory board of the Greek Ministry of Culture’s Theatre Department. The defendant, the Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea wrote an article about that appointment referring to the plaintiff as “completely unknown”. The actress brought a libel action against the newspaper and argued to be violated in her personality rights. She felt insulted by the description as “completely unknown”. The national Court followed the plaintiff’s argument and ordered the defendant to pay 30.000 € in damages. Therefore, the defendant applied to the ECtHR arguing that the national Court’s decision violated the newspaper’s right to freedom of speech according to art. 10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECtHR decided in favour of the newspaper. According to the ECtHR, the domestic Court’s decision interfered with the newspaper’s right to freedom of speech, and it was being neither “proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued” nor “necessary in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out that the actress was appointed as member of an advisory board of a government department and, therefore, was more than just a private individual. As a person with quasi-political function, she should have expected to be examined and criticized by the press. It is not the role of the Courts to impose a particular style on journalists when they fulfil their role as public watchdogs and criticize events and people of public interest. Furthermore, the Court found that the national Courts did not interpret the statement in its overall context. The article in which the newspaper called the actress “completely unknown” included a number of favourable comments about the actress as well. The Courts might have reached a different conclusion if they would have considered the whole context of the statement.

Finally, the ECtHR found that the awarded damages did not reflect the financial situation of the newspaper and, therefore, would discourage other journalists from participating in debates of public interest.

Gianna Iacino, LL.M., works at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brussels.


The judgement is available in French language here.


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