COURT CASES AGAINST MEDIA AND JOURNALISTS  IN 2021-2022: media monitoring report

From June 2022 to January 2023, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) NGO, within the framework of a project implemented with the support of the Government of the Netherlands, conducted a monitoring of court cases against media and journalists.

The monitoring covered lawsuits filed with courts, objections made to them, issues discussed in court sessions, as well as judicial acts. Based on the findings, including statistical data, the CPFE carried out an analysis and prepared the current Report.

This monitoring is another study of the CPFE, which focuses on the insult and defamation court cases initiated against media and journalists in the years 2021 and 2022 on the grounds of Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code. The CPFE implemented similar projects in the past as well, and their continuity is crucial for identifying the ongoing trends and developments in judicial practice. This is especially relevant in the present post-revolutionary period, when the legal system is undergoing complex and sometimes ambiguous transformations.

Through the monitoring, the CPFE tried to examine the extent of judges’ adherence to the legal framework regulating the media, international conventions, as well as the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, the RA Constitutional Court and the RA Court of Cassation. A significant emphasis was placed on examining whether the courts were taking identical, legitimate and predictable approaches when adjudicating similar disputes. Hence, the CPFE carried out comparative analyses, which revealed instances in which courts have issued differing judicial acts when presented with essentially the same factual data.

A particular emphasis was placed on whether the courts take into account the mission of the media and journalists, the standards of freedom of speech and its public interest. When analyzing some cases, reference was made to the judgments and opinions of the Information Disputes Council professional initiative.

Similar to previous monitoring efforts, the expert group conducted an analysis of court cases involving insult and defamation in the media using the following criteria:

  • distinguishing between facts and value judgments
  • defamatory nature of information
  • challenge of identifying the proper defendant
  • pecuniary and non-pecuniary compensation
  • reasoning in judicial acts
  • application of a measure to secure the claim
  • litigation costs (amount of state duty, attorney’s fee, etc.).

The study also delved into the compliance of freedom of speech restrictions with the principles of legality and proportionality, as well as their necessity in a democratic society.

Throughout the monitoring period, 106 lawsuits were filed against media and journalists, 72 of which in 2021, and 34 in 2022. Out of those 106 lawsuits, 93 were accepted for proceedings (69 in 2021 and 24 in 2022), the remaining 13 were not accepted for proceedings due to deficiencies in documents or withdrawal of the claim.

In 48 out of the 93 cases accepted for proceedings (38 in 2021 and 10 in 2022) the plaintiffs were current or former officials, politicians or state bodies, in 25 cases (19 in 2021 and 6 in 2022) they were businessmen or business companies, in 9 cases (5 and 4, respectively) – ordinary citizens, in 4 cases (3 and 1, respectively) – representatives of civil society organizations, in 7 cases (4 and 3, respectively) – media.

The monitoring analyzed also the cases where at least one or more judicial acts were issued. A total of 17 such cases were recorded, with judgments on 7 cases already entered into force, indicating that the disputes were resolved. As for the remaining 10 cases, 1 or more acts were issued, but the court proceedings were ongoing at the time of publication of the study.

Among the 2021 and 2022 court cases, 2 conciliation agreements were reached, which led to the termination of the cases. The lawsuits were returned and not refiled (thereby the court cases were completed) in 10 cases, of which 3 in 2021 and 7 in 2022. And in 3 cases (all in 2022) after refiling the lawsuits, the decision to accept them for proceedings has not yet been released. There were 3 cases in which the plaintiffs failed to attend the court sessions two or more times without good cause: 1 in 2021 and 2 in 2022. In all 3 cases the courts left the lawsuits without examination (all in 2021). The number of cases dismissed on the grounds of withdrawal of the lawsuit amounts to 9, of which 3 in 2021 and 6 in 2022.



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