On 10 September 2014 the Amsterdam District Court held that only in exceptional cases will broadcasters be obliged to remove news or information from their show’s websites because according to the Court, the right to inform prevails over the right of reputation.
The facts of the case before this Court were as follows: Tros, a Dutch broadcaster, aired a television show called “Opgelicht?!”. Certain episodes of this show featured the alleged wrongdoings of an individual. These episodes remained available on the website of the show.
The person concerned (the claimant) sued Tros, seeking primarily to have those episodes featuring him removed from the website within 48 hours. In the alternative, he sought to have the website file and episodes only accessible using a login name and password and further requested that Tros remove information from the website because they were inaccurate. The claimant’s underlying reasoning was that he felt publicly denounced as a result of the television show, even though he was punished by imprisonment (by being convicted of embezzlement (but acquitted for fraud)). According to him, the TV show aired by Tros had major consequences for both him and his family and amounted to a violation of his privacy. Indeed, he was forced to relocate his residence, and he subsequently lost his job. Moreover, the problematic content is still available on the show’s website which makes it particularly difficult for him to reintegrate into society and to find a new job.
Tros relied on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (“the ECHR”) in its defence, saying that it can warn society about social wrongdoing and that the public has the right to be informed. Furthermore, Tros argued that the content published on its show’s website was adequately and sufficiently supported by the facts. Tros asserted it handled the case at stake correctly since they let the public prosecutor and the press officer of the court explain the facts of the case in one of the aired episodes. Finally, Tros stated that to ensure the protection of the claimant’s privacy, it has anonymized all references to the claimant by using only his initials in the internet file and blurring his face in all the footage that were on the website. In its ruling regarding the primary claim, the Court held that Tros’s interest in informing the public may only be restricted if such restriction is laid down by law and if the restriction is necessary for a democratic society to, for example, protect one’s good name or the rights of others (Article 10§2 ECHR). The Court said that, to decide which right prevails, it is essential to make a balance between the freedom of information, on the one hand, and the protection of a person’s good name, on the other. The Court also held that although the information published are detrimental to the claimant, this was not sufficient to uphold the claims being sought. In addition to its freedom of information, Tros—as a journalistic medium—has an important archiving role. The court held that only in exceptional cases should archived news and information be removed. Furthermore, the claimant did not prove that the information published about him by Tros were incorrect. Tros is at liberty to question the ruling of the Court in which he was acquitted, even if the claimant does not agree to the questioning. According to the Court, Tros has shown that it handled the case correctly. Finally, the Court concluded that the claimant’s privacy was not violated: Tros only referred to him by using his initials and blurred his face. All in all, the Court dismissed the primary claim.
Regarding the alternative claim, the Court ruled that it should be partially upheld, i.e., it found that there was indeed one inaccuracy in a statement regarding the claimant’s earlier imprisonment, and Tros was ordered to correct this fact within 48 hours (and if it did not, it would be sanctioned).
This article was written by summer trainee Nini Blom, and reviewed by Frédéric François.