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Slovakian tabloid sued over photographs of judiciary officials

(IPI/IFEX) – The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), today criticised lawsuits by current and former members of Slovakia's judiciary seeking €940,000 from a tabloid that published photographs and video from a 2010 party that appeared to depict acts making light of a mass murder.

The Slovak Spectator reported that eight of the individuals depicted in the photographs and video had sued Nový Čas and its publisher, Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, claiming the tabloid's June 2011 report on the party created a false connection with an August 2010 killing spree that took place two months before the party.

The photographs and video depict high-ranking judiciary officials at a bar in Rajecké Teplice with retired lawyer Tibor Péchy, who is shown greeting guests at the private, October 2010 event wearing blue ear defenders and carrying an imitation assault rifle.

Ľubomír Harman was similarly wearing blue ear defenders on Aug. 30, 2010 when he used an assault rifle to kill seven people and wound 17 others in a Bratislava suburb before turning his gun on himself.

According to the Spectator, the plaintiffs in the lawsuits – who include Acting General Prosecutor Ladislav Tichý; Supreme Court Justices Štefan Michálik, Daniel Hudák, Milan Lipovský and Juraj Seman; District Judge Jozef Korduliak; Péchy; and Štefan Comorek, the husband of the bar's owner – maintain that Péchy's actions were not related to the tragedy and that he used items found at the bar. They also argue that blue is the most common colour for ear defenders and that some of the images were modified or falsified.

None of the plaintiffs demanded any statement of correction from the tabloid when the pictures were published, the Spectator said, nor were they subject to disciplinary sanctions in the wake of the Nový Čas report.

IPI Executive Board Vice Chair Pavol Múdry, the head of IPI's Slovak National Committee, sharply criticised the lawsuits. He told the Spectator: “It has become a rather bad habit here for public officials to blame for their disclosed mistakes those who reveal these failings, mainly journalists and the media.”

Múdry also predicted that the lawsuits would have a chilling effect, commenting: “The media will be intimidated and they will choose not to report about missteps in [the judiciary] out of fear of similar lawsuits.”

The lawsuits seek a combined total of €940,000. Local sources say Nový Čas could face the burden of separate trials in each of the eight individual cases.

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