ESTONIA: Top court ruling might limit opinion to statements based on hard evidence

( On Monday, the Supreme Court of Estonia confirmed earlier court decisions according to which business paper Äripäev published false claims about Reform Party MP Eerik-Niiles Kross. The ruling could have serious implications for the Estonian media, as it limits the freedom of journalists to speculate in editorials and opinion pieces. The paper is taking the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

Äripäev wrote about connections of Kross in 2014 to people suspected as well as found guilty of tax offenses. The paper questioned the business operations of Kross in an editorial, following which Kross took Äripäev to court.

On Monday this week, the paper followed the Supreme Court’s instruction to the effect and published a correction of its 2014 editorial, taking back the statements it made against Kross’ business operations.

The dispute never concerned the news as such, but instead dealt with the facts as stated in the editorial. The Supreme Court’s ruling could now lead to a situation where anyone writing an opinion piece will have to be able to back up their claims in court.

The paper’s lawyer, Karmen Turk, told ERR’s “Aktuaalne kaamera” newscast on Wednesday that the editorial had contained probing questions. “We’re talking about an editorial in which the editors’ office expressed a joint opinion, and where everything was stated through questions,” Turk said.

Kross’ lawyer, Oliver Nääs, said that, in reality, “there is hardly a difference” between an editorial, opinion piece, and a news story.

“If claims are published about facts there is no difference where in a publication they are placed,” Nääs said, adding that the publishers are still accountable for both claims and judgments in a piece.

Äripäev’s editor-in-chief, Aivar Hundimägi, disagrees.

“If the court says that even an editorial can only state facts and can’t include a judgment, then that seriously hampers the freedom of opinion,” Hundimägi commented.

In short, if at any point in the future someone writes an opinion piece making claims for which they can’t present hard evidence in court, chances are that a complaint against them will be successful.

According to the court’s ruling the paper has to pay Kross €10,000 in damages. Äripäev has announced that they will take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

Featured image: EER