The protection of personality rights should be considered more severely in the case of the title of a press article than with regard to other parts of the article9 July 2018
As established in the Constitutional Court’s recent decision: the title is not merely one of the thoughts presented in the press article, it is a highlighted element enjoying a central role in grasping the content of the article and it may have an intensified effect with respect to the injury of personality rights as well. The title should be examined autonomously, independently from other parts of the article, and it should not contain any material, misleading inaccuracy or false information that bears importance with respect to the totality of the article.
The defendant of the case underlying the constitutional complaint was the publisher of a national daily newspaper. An article with the following title was published in the paper: “Investigation is under way against bishop”, concretely identified by name. The diocesan mentioned in the title had been the plaintiff of first-order, who later became one of the petitioners of the constitutional complaint. Further in the article the newspaper presented the following: the prosecutor’s office ordered investigation due to the suspicion of the criminal offence of coercion, “related to the acts of the diocesan and the commissary”.
To protect their rights, the plaintiffs turned to the court. In their opinion, the newspaper falsely stated that an investigation had been started against them due to any criminal offence, as in fact they have not been suspected and the investigation took place against an unknown perpetrator. The title of the article was about an investigation against one of them, despite of the fact that they have not been incriminated. After court proceedings of multiple stages, the plaintiffs finally turned to the Constitutional Court with a constitutional complaint. According to the petitioners, the Curia acted contrary to the Fundamental Law when it held permissible for the title of a press article to contain a falsehood.
The Constitutional Court pointed out: if the whole of the press article provides true information, then the smaller inaccuracies, falsehoods found in certain sentences or terms of the article do not form ground for legal accountability. However, the Constitutional Court holds at the same time that the criteria concerned should be considered differently when they are applied with regard to the title of an article. In the course of the assessment focusing on personality rights, the title of a press article does not form unity with other parts of the article.
Accordingly, the interpretation of the law provided by the Curia does not comply with the criteria of constitutionality in its part stating that the falsehood contained in the title of the article should be assessed in the light of the totality of the article. Therefore the Constitutional Court annulled the challenged judicial decision. There shall be a repeated procedure in the case, as it is still the duty of the court in charge to decide about the lawfulness of the concrete article concerned in the case.
The full text of the decision is available on the Constitutional Court’s website (alkotmanybirosag.hu). Judges Dr. Attila Horváth, Dr. Béla Pokol, Dr. Mária Szívós and Dr. András Varga Zs. attached concurring opinions to the decision.