A court has dismissed a libel action from businessman and media mogul Margus Linnamäe. The plaintiff had sought a rebuttal of incorrect information, plus damages, in respect of an interview which Reform Party MP, former European commissioner and former prime minister Siim Kallas gave to evening paper Õhtuleht in June 2020.
The first-tier Harju County Court dismissed the claim by the plaintiff that Kallas' words in the Õhtuleht piece alleging that the plaintiff and another individual could give orders to the opposition Isamaa Party (in office at the time the piece published) was libellous.
The court found that Kallas had made a value judgment, rather than a statement of fact.
The use of the word "button man" (Estonian: Nupumees) was meant by Kallas to be taken in a humorous light.
Kallas had also phrased in the conditional his statement that "we should have agreed with Linnamäe and [buinessman and Isamaa donor Parvel] Pruunsild to give Isamaa an order: Form a coalition with the Reform Party."
Reform was in opposition at the time the interview was given.
The court said that this was speculation and an indirect reflection on rumor.
The court also noted that this sentence was followed by further sentences qualifying sentences, intended to express incredulity on the part of the speaker, i.e. Kallas, who was saying that such a situation would not be appropriate to Estonia. Kallas had said that the "button man" approach might be more appropriate to Moldova.
Kallas assessment was therefor neither derogatory or defamatory, Harju County Court found.
The court also took into account the fact that Linnamäe is a public figure as such, including ownership of a major media group, the Postimees Group, and is a well-known donor to political parties, particularly Isamaa, meaning the expectation is that he would see more character assessments and speculation in the media than would be the case for most people.
In 2019, Linnamäe was voted the most influential person in Estonia.
The court concluded that what was published by Õhtuleht would give the average, reasonable reader the impression that Linnamäe is an authoritative and influential figure, and no more.
The decision can be appealed at the second-tier circuit court.
Editor: Andrew Whyte