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25.10.2017

Court supports Turkish journalists’ association right to reply to criticism

By Emil Weber

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on 24th October backed the domestic Turkish court for ordering a newspaper in Sinop to publish a reaction from the local journalists’ association.

Newspapers The ECtHR ruled that there was no violation of the right to freedom of expression.

According to the court’s Second Section, the right to reply is a guarantee of pluralism of information in democratic societies.

Mr. Mustafa Eker was the publisher of the newspaper Bizim Karadeniz in the small Turkish city of Sinop when he, in February 2005, published an editorial criticising the Sinop Association of Journalists for working “in contradiction with its objectives” and for “no longer serving the purposes for which it was created”. Mr. Eker was a member of the association. Two days later, the president of the Association of Journalists sent a reply to the newspaper arguing that Mr. Eker’s article had undermined his and other board members’ dignity and contesting the information provided in the editorial. His reply also implied criticism of Mr. Eker’s professional integrity.

Since Mr. Eker refused to publish the reply, the president approached the Sinop Magistrate’s Court which approved his request and ordered for the publication of the reply. An appeal from Mr. Eker was dismissed by the Sinop Criminal Court and the corrective reply was published by the newspaper. However, the publisher complained at the ECtHR in 2005 according to the right to free trial, right to respect for private and family life, and right to an effective remedy. The ECtHR considered the case admissible only from the perspective of the article 6 - right to free trial, and article 10 - the right to freedom of expression.

The top European court ruled that the obligation to hold a public court hearing “is not absolute”, as the Turkish courts had acted in this case. In particular, it mentioned that there was no “question of credibility” or “controversy over the facts” in the case and therefore the courts may rule in “in a fair and reasonable manner on the basis of the submissions made by the parties and other documents”.

It said there was no violation of Article 6 as the courts ruled “in an appropriate manner”.

According to the ECtHR, the Turkish courts had looked at the parties’ documents - the Association’s reply and Mr. Eker’s complaint - and needed no further public hearing of witnesses. In the domestic legal system, it observed, the right to reply is integral and the Association’s reply represented no violation of the rights of others and no offence.

In addition, ECtHR said, “promptness is an essential feature” in rulings on the right to reply in Turkey - with three day deadlines for decisions on applications and three days for respective complaints. As such, it observed, promptness may be considered “necessary and justifiable” for allowing the contestation of untruthful published information and for ensuring plurality of opinions on topics of public interest.

The ECtHR ruled that there was no violation of the right to freedom of expression either. It said the domestic court’s interference to enable the publication of the reply was necessary in a democratic society. “The right of reply constitutes a guarantee of pluralism in information which must be respected”, the judgement said.

The court said the right-to-reply article dealt with the work of the Association, provided answers to questions raised by Mr. Eker and contained criticism of him, but it did not go beyond “admissible criticism”, had a “substantially similar” tone to Mr. Eker’s editorial, and nothing prevented (Mr.Eker) from publishing his version of the facts again”. The publisher was also not requested to amend his article.

The ECtHR said the domestic courts struck “a fair balance” between Mr. Eker’s right to freedom of expression and the Sinop Journalists’ Association right to protection of reputation.

Case of Eker v. Turkey, application no. 24016/05. 24 October 2017





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