Written by: René Jakl
Photo by: Věroslav Sixt
Is it possible to publish information that harms a person’s honor with impunity if the information is true? And what if its verity cannot be proven? Parodoxically, the answer to the first question can be NO, and to the second, YES. It depends on the circumstances.
As follows from the administration of justice, untrue information always encroaches on one’s personal sphere,” says attorney Helena Chaloupková, who specializes in this issue. This poses a problem with satire, for example, which cannot be judged in terms of truth or falsehood, or with cases where freedom of speech over-rides personal protection. Chaloupková’s first encounter with this came in the case of former minister Karel Březina, who sued Reflex magazine for publishing one part of a harsh satire series, “Green Raoul”, in which he played an ignominious leading role. The Prague Municipal Court and the Superior Appellate Court sided with Březina, stating that even satire has its limits. However, according to Chaloupková, who represents Reflex, the case is still being debated before the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.
Forman film lovers probably know that in the US Březina wouldn’t have a chance. In a Forman film that parallelled a true story, a clergyman was subjected to similar satire in a commercial advertisement published in Larry Flynt’s erotic magazine. Cases in which justified interest in freedom of speech overrides protection of personal honor, even when information that cannot be proven true is involved, have occurred, for example, in the administration of justice by the European Court for Human Rights. True, this is not binding on Czech courts, but Chaloupková says that it could serve as a guideline. The status of the plaintiff is also important when judging a case. A so-called “public personality” has to expect to attract heightened public interest – the courts recognize this, and so does the media. That might by one of the reasons why Václav Klaus didn’t sue the tabloid Blesk for publishing his picture with his alleged mistress.
If one learns in advance that unpleasant information is slated for publication, he can try to prevent it by getting a restraining order. If he isn’t successful, he must protect himself by filing a subsequent complaint of his own. In any case, the protection of a person’s honor is one of the more intricate legal disciplines, where there are no universal answers. This is borne out by the fact that such cases are first tried in regional, not district, courts, and before special panels of judges.