Politician’s right to privacy

In the case of Bojan Pantić against Serbia (Application no. 33776/20, 28.03.2023) the Court of European Court of Human Rights declared the application inadmissible.

The applicant is a Serbian politician who served as the President of the Provincial Government of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina in the Republic of Serbia from 2004 to 2016. From 2014 until 2016 he was also the leader of the Democratic Party. In 2015 he started civil defamation proceedings against A.M., a high-ranking member of the Serbian Progressive Party and a member of parliament at the material time, because of statements given by A.M. at a press conference. Notably, A.M. asserted that the applicant’s regime was corrupt and that the applicant had “kidnapped” all members of a municipal council from his party and had been “holding them captive” in a hotel. In one of those press interviews, A.M. called the applicant a “thug”. Ultimately, the domestic civil courts dismissed the applicant’s claim. The final decision was rendered by the Constitutional Court on 13 February 2020. 

The Court at the outset reiterates that reputation is protected by Article 8 of the Convention as part of the right to respect for private life. However, in order for Article 8 to come into play, an attack on a person’s reputation must attain a certain level of seriousness and in a manner causing prejudice to personal enjoyment of that right. It has not been contested that Article 8 is applicable in the present case. Furthermore, in instances where, as in the present case, the interests of the “protection of the reputation or rights of others” bring Article 8 into play, the Court may be required to verify whether the domestic authorities struck a fair balance when protecting the two values guaranteed by the Convention, namely, on the one hand, freedom of expression protected by Article 10 and, on the other, the right to respect for private life enshrined in Article 8.

In the present case, the Court notes that the domestic courts established that the issues raised in the statements of A.M. were a matter of public interest and that they rested on what A.M. had believed to be sound grounds (such as, press reports). The impugned statements did not touch upon the applicant’s private life. The domestic courts further held that the applicant, as a politician, inevitably and knowingly laid himself open to scrutiny of his every word and deed and had to display a greater degree of tolerance. Moreover, the applicant had been part of the Serbian political scene long enough to get used to this style of communication and had himself given statements comparing A.M. to a rat or a monkey. Relying on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the domestic courts held that any award of damages would violate A.M.’s freedom of expression and therefore dismissed the applicant’s claim.

Lastly, the applicant’s allegations concerning the freedom of media and the security of journalists in Serbia are irrelevant in the present case because neither the applicant nor A.M. is a journalist or an owner of a media outlet. The applicant likewise does not argue, let alone substantiate, that he was denied the right to reply guaranteed by section 83 of the Public Information and Media Act 2014.

Having regard to the foregoing, the Court considers that the domestic courts put forward sufficient grounds in finding that freedom of expression of A.M. had to be given more weight than the applicant’s right to respect for his private life in the particular circumstances of the present case. Accordingly, there is no reason to conclude that the domestic courts overstepped their margin of appreciation. It follows that the application is manifestly ill-founded and must as such be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 (a) and 4 of the Convention.

Reference from the website of the European Court of Human Rights