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24.01.2018

Court finds headline about Hungarian poet’s widow was not harmful

By Emil Weber

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on 23rd January that a journal’s “moral criticism” of the family plans of a late famous Hungarian poet’s widow were not harmful.

Top Euro court rules on journalists' sources Adrian Grycuk Courtroom European Court of Human Rights 05 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/pl/deed.en

Ms. Katalin Fatime Faludy-Kovács was 65 years younger than Mr. György Faludy when they married in 2002. Since their relationship attracted wide interest, their private life was made public, including, with the couple’s agreement, having their rather erotic photographs published by a magazine.

After Mr. Faludy died in 2006, the widow said in a newspaper interview that “she wanted to have a child who would be a blood relative of both her and her late husband and have the same intellect and attitude as him”. She intended that the child would be parented from her sister and Mr. Faludy’s grandson.

The story appeared later in the weekly journal Helyi Téma. It said the poet’s grandson “dismissed the idea”. The headline of the story read: “Trampling on the memory of Faludy. The widow does everything for the limelight”. Ms. Faludy-Kovács was contacted prior to the publication. She had asked the journal to mention that her book on the poet was to be published. The journal did not include it at first, but published another article after Ms. Faludy-Kovács complained.

Ordered to pay damages

Yet, her complaint was not published in the front page and Ms. Faludy-Kovács lodged an application at the Budapest Regional Court which found that she “had been truly saddened by the way the article had presented her family plans”. The court granted an injunction against further infringements and ordered the newspaper to make a public apology. The publisher was ordered to pay her 2,000 Euros in non-pecuniary damages.    

However, the Budapest Court of Appeal later reversed the ruling and the top European Human Rights Court (ECtHR) agreed with it. According to ECtHR there was no violation of private life, namely article 8 of the European Convention, by the newspaper.

The court said that Ms. Faludy-Kovács was a well-known public figure. “Given [her] and her late husband’s lifestyle and conduct, revealing details about their private life in a number of interviews and other media publications, it was probable that more critical reactions would be triggered”, the judgement read.

'Trampling on the memory'

The ECtHR said the phrase “trampling on the memory” in the newspaper headline was the journalist’s interpretation of Ms. Faludy-Kovács’s family plans and “was a kind of moral criticism of it”.

 “[The article] did not contain unsubstantiated allegations”, the judgement read. “The headline introducing the statements of the applicant must be considered as a matter of editorial choice intending to provoke a reaction”.

According to the court, the article “had not been very prejudicial to the honour and reputation” or “especially harmful to [Ms. Faludy-Kovács’s] psychological integrity”.

Case of Faludy-Kovács v. Hungary, application no. 20487/13. 23 January 2018. 


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