Publishing a true report on a press conference about issues of public life shall not make the press liable for denigration13 December 2017
According to the recent decision of the Constitutional Court, no rumour-spreading shall be established when a report is published in the press on a press conference about public affairs of public figures, if the reporting gives accurate account of what has been presented there, without any own assessment, by clearly indicating the sources of information, and by providing an opportunity to publish the reply or the rebuttal of the person affected by the statements of facts that may infringe one’s reputation. The Court annulled the judgement that had reached a conclusion to the contrary. The reporting about the press conference of public figures shall be regarded as an exemption when journalists are exempted from their obligation of verifying the truthfulness of the facts published.
The constitutional complaint was filed to the Constitutional Court by the publisher of an internet news portal. The petitioner complained about being challenged at court for the violation of personality rights on the basis of a report published about a press conference on the issue of tobacco shop competitions held by an MP of a party in the Parliament. According to the challenged judgement, false statements of facts injuring the reputation of another politician were communicated at the press conference and the news portal should have objective liability for spreading rumour about it.
The Constitutional Court established that this interpretation of the concept of rumour-spreading – which is in line with the customary judicial practice – is incompatible with the constitutional requirements originating from the freedom of press. Communicating to the public the events of public life is an essential element of the activity of the press playing a central role in forming democratic public opinion. The communication of information in the public interest, including the statements made and the positions taken by public figures, is the primary constitutional duty of the press and no one may be condemned for performing their duty under the Fundamental Law. The accurate disclosure of what has been stated at the press conference in line with the actual news is the essential interest of the public debate.
However, the Constitutional Court holds that the exemption from liability of the press reporting about a press conference is not unconditional: it should be examined whether the journalist conveyed to the public the statements made by other persons truly and by clearly indicating their source, without providing any own evaluation, and whether he provided an opportunity for the person affected by the challenged statements to confute.
Judges István Balsai, Ágnes Czine, Egon Dienes-Oehm, László Salamon, Péter Szalay and Mária Szívós attached dissenting opinions to the decision. The full text of the decision of the Constitutional Court is available in Hungarian language on the Constitutional Court’s website.
Budapest, 6 December 2017