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June 1, 2020
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Czech Constitutional Court agrees with politician who sued over nickname ridiculing him in the press

30.3.2020 8:17
French nationalist right-wing politician Marine Le Pen (left), chair of the Czech Republic's
French nationalist right-wing politician Marine Le Pen (left), chair of the Czech Republic's "Freedom and Direct Democracy" movement, Tomio Okamura (center), and the chair of the Dutch Freedom Party, Geert Wilders (right) at the "Europe of Nations and Freedom" conference in Prague, Czech Republic, 16 December 2017.

The chair of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" party (SPD), Tomio Okamura, has won a Constitutional Court case in the Czech Republic that he brought over the nickname "Pitomio" (something like calling him "Tomidiot" in English) being used for him by the editors of Reflex magazine. The Constitutional Court has instructed the Municipal Court in Prague to review the matter once more.

The Constitutional Court finding, which is available on its website, states that freedom of speech is not meant to lead to anybody, including publicly active figures, being intentionally ridiculed in the eyes of the public for no reason other than to ridicule them. Okamura told the Czech News Agency (ČTK) that he welcomes the verdict.

"The media, which is very frequently called the 'watchdog of democracy', must respect the principles and rudiments of democracy, especially respect for the fundamental rights of each individual, above all, to human dignity, personal honor, a good reputation and the protection of one's name, as well as political pluralism and the openness of democratic society," said the Constitutional Court panel, the rapporteur for which was Justice Radovan Suchánek. The media's role, according to the judgment, is to truthfully report on public affairs and to facilitate members of the broader public shaping their own opinions of those affairs.

"Promoting an activist approach, or a campaign aimed at a specific individual, just with the aim of defaming that person, and moreover, doing so in a way that deviates from generally-accepted rules of decency and thus puts the individual at a disadvantage in the political struggle for public office, is something that cannot benefit from judicial protection," the Constitutional Court believes. Okamura told ČTK:  "I welcome the verdict of the Constitutional Court, because at least the Constitutional Court has confirmed at long last that we are meant to behave decently towards each other in the Czech Republic without vulgarly abusing each other."

Okamura said that while he believes argumentative debates that are difficult are in order, they should take place within the bounds of decency. "Journalists cannot allow themselves to abuse others crudely just because they have been paid to do so, or because they don't like that particular person," the politician added.

The case was brought against the publisher of Reflex, which is currently the Czech News Center publishing house. The publisher has had to apologize online for two pieces using the nickname, but Okamura was not awarded compensation, and what is more, the judiciary generally accepted the possibility of using the nickname "Pitomio" if it were part of legitimate criticism.

The articles at issue were published in Reflex in 2013. In October of that year, Okamura, who was a businessperson at the time, became an MP for the "Dawn of Direct Democracy" (Úsvit přímé demokracie) party.

Currently Okamura is a vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies and chair of the SPD movement. The Czech Supreme Court also reviewed the case and arrived at a different conclusion from the Constitutional Court.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said that the garbling of a name and its connection with a derogatory expression must be seen in the same way as a cartoon caricature that exaggerates, ironizes and overstates aspects of those it depicts. If the exaggeration in a caricature has some basis in reality and does not exceed the limits of proportionality, then it is acceptable, according to the Supreme Court.

However, according to the Constitutional Court justices, the other judicial instances have not paid enough attention to the facts of the case and did not take into consideration several of its circumstances, including the fact that the material at issue failed to sufficiently differentiate allegations of fact from evaluative judgments and also failed to differentiate criticism of an individual per se from criticism of his opinions and positions. The Constitutional Court also emphasized that for a particular individual, it is of deep personal significance that his or her name not be garbled by others, and especially not into a form evoking a pejorative label.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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stížnost, Tomio Okamura, Ústavní soud, Verdikt



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