Case summary

Thoma v. Luxembourg

European Court of Human Rights
29 March 2001

The applicant, Mr. Thoma, was a journalist. Civil proceedings were brought against the applicant by 63 state officials, who alleged that he had made defamatory remarks about them in a radio program he presented. Mr. Thoma submitted that he had merely quoted an extract from an article published in a daily newspaper. The Luxembourg courts ordered him to pay one franc in nominal damages to each claimant and the costs of the proceedings on the ground that, by failing to distance himself from the statements quoted, he had endorsed the views put forward. Without proof and without qualifying the remarks, he had led the public to believe that all the accused officials were corruptible. 

Mr. Thoma complained that the national court’s judgment had violated his freedom of expression. 

Court’s ruling
The Court ruled that by punishing the applicant for the broadcast of his remarks, the national courts had violated his freedom of expression. 

  • The Court considered that the applicant could have foreseen to a reasonable degree that the remarks broadcasted during his programme did not render him immune from the actions and thus the interference was prescribed by law in order to protect rights of other persons.

  • However, the grounds given for holding the applicant liable in the judgment were not sufficient:

  1. The topic raised in the program was a matter of public interest and the measures taken by the national authority shall not dissuade the press from taking part in such discussions.
  2. Mr. Thoma had expressly stated that he is quoting another author and asked also an opinion of a third party about this quotation.
  3. Thus, as Mr. Thoma had distanced himself from the quotations he used, he did not fail to fulfill his duties and responsibilities as a journalist.
  4. A general requirement for journalists to distance themselves systematically and formally from the content of a quotation that might insult or provoke a third party or damage his or her reputation was not reconcilable with the role of the press of providing information on current events, opinions and ideas. 

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