Czech Republic: Both sides appeal verdict over racist discussion posts
News server Romea.cz was the first to report several days ago on the groundbreaking verdict handed down by the Municipal Court in Prague sentencing the publisher of the Parlamentní listy online tabloid, the OUR MEDIA company, to payment of a fine of CZK 150 000 (EUR 5 447) for failing to remove racist content posted to its online discussion board beneath two articles. Jan Holoubek, chair of the board of OUR MEDIA, has confirmed to news server Romea.cz that OUR MEDIA has now appealed.
When asked to comment on the lawsuit itself, Holoubek referred us to the statement published by Parlamentní listy on the case at the end of January. In that article, media analyst Petr Žantovský argues that discussions on the Internet should not be given "undue significance" because those involved in them are people "who are lacking something in life".
Žantovský also argues that restricting online discussions would be an attack on the freedom of those discussing and on the freedom of the publisher of the media outlet. The development of this case is even more interesting because the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is expected to rule soon on the issue of who is liable for the content of such discussions on the Internet.
The case in Strasbourg concerns Estonian Government action taken in the matter of an entrepreneur who felt insulted by discussion posts beneath an online article and sued the publisher. According to several experts, the Grand Chamber judgment from Strasbourg could completely change current practice with respect to online discussions.
Publishers could become liable should insults even turn up in online discussions, not "just" for failing to remove them after being asked to do so. In order to avoid criminal prosecution, they would either have to close their online discussion boards altogether or hire editors to read all posts prior to their publication.
For big online news servers where thousands of posts are made daily, the cost of editing them prior to publication could put them out of business. According to Jaroslav Suchý, the plaintiff in the Czech case against Parlamentní listy, such a decision by Strasbourg would be a step in the right direction.
"Naturally I am following the case in Strasbourg and its history," Suchý told news server Romea.cz. "The [initial] judgment in that case, which would be binding for the Czech Republic as well, clearly demonstrated that publishers should avoid publishing anti-Semitic, insulting, racist statements because they do not belong in such discussions. They should prevent their being published on their websites at all."
Suchý has also appealed the recent verdict in his own case. He insists he should be awarded damages in the amount of CZK 200 000 (EUR 7 263).
In its statement on the recent verdict, Parlamentní listy claimed Suchý sought CZK 5 million (EUR 181 590) in his suit and was awarded only CZK 150 000. That claim, however, is misleading.
In a previous version of this lawsuit, Suchý sought CZK 5 million in damages, but the court told him he was only entitled to be reimbursed for court fees up to the amount of CZK 200 000. Suchý then retracted his initial lawsuit and filed the current lawsuit, seeking compensation in the amount of CZK 200 000.
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