Investigative weekly has to publish a retraction of claims that a rival major media concern was to be compulsorily dissolved, following a court decision Tuesday. The company, MM Group, is owned by businessman Margus Linnamäe.
The party claiming libel, media concern MM Grupp, also sought damages of €2 million.
Eesti Ekspress appealed the MM Grupp's call for damages and a printed refutation of an article which appeared in April last year which said that the company was to be broken up, after failing to file an annual financial report.
Harju County Court rejected Eesti Ekspress case, ruling on Tuesday that the publication should issue a public refutation of the article, on the grounds that delays in submitting accounts do not lead to compulsory dissolution of a company, or run the risk of that happening.
This meant that the article and its headline in particular were libelous, the court found.
However, the court rejected damages of €2 million, saying that this could not be granted since MM Grupp is a legal person, but not an individual. Only mental or physical suffering caused to a private person constitutes moral damage of the kind MM Grupp was seeking, the court said.
Eesti Ekspress journalist Sulev Vedler wrote in the weekly on April 22 2020 that MM Grupp was facing compulsory dissolution due to failing to submit its annual financial report.
MM Grupp argued that the claim was absurd and had caused commercial loss for the group, leading to its legal action against AS Ekspress Meedia.
AS Ekspress Meedia is a subsidiary of listed Estonian media holding AS Ekspress Grupp, and appealed the MM Grupp, with its court defense revolving around the principle that the media are permitted to address topics in a manner which might be described as provocative or exaggerated.
MM Grupp says it is to appeal the county court decision, however, at the second-tier circuit court.
MM Grupp is a holding company owned by businessmen Margus Linnamäe and Ivar Vendelin,
Ekspress Meedia, as a result of the county court ruling, must publish a retraction online, alongside the article as it currently appears on the publication's website, and in print in the first edition to publish following the decision entering into force.
Ekspress Meedia must confirm the claim in the April 2020 article was false.
MM Grupp's companies operate the healthcare, media, real estate, retail goods and services fields. This includes the Apollo Group entertainment arm, which is the franchisee of KFC in Estonia, and Magnum Medical, a major pharmaceutical wholesaler.
The media concerns are primarily the Postimees Grupp, the daily newspaper of the same name and its regional and online variants (the latter also have English and Russian versions), and newswire BNS. The publications are competitors of Ekspress Grupp's, which also runs daily Eesti Päevaleht, portal Delfi and other publications.
Editor: Andrew Whyte