ADF International welcomes European Court of Human Rights ruling that protects freedom of expression
STRASBOURG, FRANCE – The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of free speech, following arguments ADF International advanced as a third-party intervener in defense of Portugal after a TV personality filed suit.
In Goucha v. Portugal, the court found that Manuel Louìs Goucha, a well-known TV presenter in Portugal, could not prosecute the people responsible for a late-night quiz show which had offended him. The court also reiterated in its judgment the importance of freedom of expression as “one of the essential foundations of a democratic society.”
“This judgment reinforces free speech as a central principle for democracies in Europe,” said Paul Coleman, deputy director of ADF International. “The case is not primarily about an individual who felt ridiculed by a colleague. It is about whether or not we are allowed to speak freely—sometimes also on a humorous note—in the public square.”
“Today, we see the rise of so-called hate speech laws in many European countries,” Coleman continued. “Public debate on sensitive issues becomes ever more restrained due to political correctness, yet the court handed down an encouraging ruling, emphasizing the paramount importance of freedom of expression. The judgment is significant for Europe and its future as a democratic society.”
The “best female TV host”
Manuel Louìs Goucha has worked in the Portuguese media for more than 40 years and is a public figure in his country. In November 2009, a different television presenter asked in a late-night quiz show who the best female TV host in Portugal was. According to the presenter, the right answer was Goucha, whose characteristics “reflect behaviour that is attributed to the female gender…[and who had] recently made his homosexuality public.”
Goucha felt offended and filed a criminal complaint for defamation and insult with the Lisbon Criminal Department. The department discontinued its investigation after determining that the show never intended to offend Goucha.
Goucha then filed the case with a higher court and then appealed after it was dismissed in the first instance. He argued his name had been included in the list of possible answers because of his sexual orientation. He eventually filed an application with the ECHR against Portugal and claimed that his country failed to protect his private life and reputation.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right,” noted Robert Clarke, director of European Advocacy for ADF International. “Without robust protections for speech, vague laws which subjectively criminalize offending someone insult can have a chilling effect on society. Eventually, no one will be able to address sensitive matters publicly, and that would mark the end of democracy.”