Businessman awarded defamation damages in TV3 case

TV3 presenter Katrin Lust at work.
TV3 presenter Katrin Lust at work. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A court has ordered a television presenter in Estonia to pay €10,000 in damages to a businessman who sued the presenter, the television channel and the related production company for over a million euros' damages, relating to sex allegations the presenter made on a 2017 TV show.

The defendant and her lawyer are calling the result of the three-year case a win for press freedoms, given the €1 million damages sought were not satisfied. Retractions of the allegations must, however, be reproduced across three of the main commercial news websites in Estonia, as well as on TV and in social media.

Presenter Katrin Lust was ordered by Harju Count Court Wednesday to pay €10,000 in damages to businessman Iraj Zand, in respect of a 2017 broadcast of the "Kuuuurija", on commercial station TV3.

In 2019, Zand, who according to investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress (link in Estonian) resides in Switzerland and the U.K., as well as Estonia, sued Lust over allegations made on "Kuuuurija", a show which Lust presents, which he said were libelous.

While Lust has to pay €10,000 in damages after the county court ruling, Zand had sought €1.2 million in damages, which was not satisfied and which he will reportedly be appealing.

Maarja Pild, counsel for Lust, said the outcome was important for Estonian press freedoms in general, as well as in this particular case.

Pild said: "The monumental thing is that the insane amount of legal aid costs [Lust was being sued for] was not mandated."

An action against Lust and TV3, a commercial TV station owned by Swedish channel Viasat (now Allente, following a merger earlier this year - ed.), was upheld, while an action against Linga OÜ, production company for "Kuuuurija", was overturned.

Lust herself said of the case it was: "Important for the entire Estonian media. If a million euros were demanded, no one would dare to do any work any more."

Zand filed suit in 2019, demanding one million euros from Lust and €162,000 in costs, lifestyle portal Elu24 writes (link in Estonian).

The suit concerned a "Kuuuurija" broadcast from November 27 2017, which made allegations which must now be renounced as they are and without comment on TV3's news show, "Seitsmesed uudised", while similar announcements must be headlined on the websites of Postimees, Õhtuleht and Eesti Ekspress, and remain in place for eight consecutive hours, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Harju County Court ruled.

The allegations which must be refuted and which Lust had prefaced on "Kuuuurija" by saying they were more than just rumor, included that Zand had engaged in blackmail and the solicitation of prostitution, Eesti Ekspress reports.

Slanderous or abusive comments made by online commentators, including some of an anti-semitic nature, were also taken into consideration by the plaintiff and his lawyers.

The figure of €1 million in damages was based on TV3's parent company in Estonia, All Media, having reported €14 million in revenue for 2017.

Zand will be appealing the decision, Eesti Ekspress reports, and will also be taking the matter to court in the U.S. Music portal Sky.ee reported in 2019 that Zand had said the bulk of the reputational damage he suffered as a result of the TV3 broadcast would be in the U.S., while, the report said, an equity firm with a stake in TV3 is based in Florida.

The original Eesti Ekspress piece (in Estonian) is here.

TV3 has two sister channels in Estonia, TV6 and TV8, both entertainment channels launched in the 2000s. TV3 itself was launched in 1996.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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