The prosecution and journalists should be able to agree on whether to disclose pretrial proceedings, while the former should always be serious about how to handle information that reaches them, Prosecutor General Andres Parmas told ERR.
The Supreme Court found on Tuesday that even though Eesti Ekspress journalists Sulev Vedler and Tarmo Vahter as well as their employer Delfi Meedia AS disclosed pretrial investigation information wirhout authorization from the prosecution, requiring them to pay a fine was not justified.
Prosecutor General Andres Parmas said that it is nevertheless important for journalists to consult the prosecution before disclosing such information, not out of fear of fines but to avoid jeopardizing pretrial proceedings and the people involved.
"The state must prove criminal offenses beyond reasonable doubt and collect all manner of evidence, which might take longer than what the public affords journalists for collecting information. That is why it is important to find a compromise and maintain an air of mutual trust. We believe that it has always been possible, and will always be, to find a compromise – even though the criminal code's limitation on disclosing pretrial materials is valid throughout the pretrial proceedings period, it is usually possible to publish details sooner, following an agreement with the prosecutor, once critical investigative acts have been concluded," he said.
Parmas said that journalists' own judgment of what could prove harmful also plays a part.
"We hope that journalists handle the information that reaches them with care and turn to the prosecution to agree upon scope and timing when faced with a dilemma of whether to risk disclosing materials and harming proceedings," the prosecutor general said.
Parmas said that even though the Supreme Court agreed with the circuit court judgment and found fines for journalists to have been excessive, it is good legal clarity was achieved in this case.
"One of our goals was to achieve legal clarity and certainty in this matter. Today, the Supreme Court gave us a determination according to which the prosecution, as the institution responsible for pretrial proceedings, has the right to decide whether information can be disclosed. Seeking fines for journalists is an extreme measure to be used seldom and only when publication of material has damaged proceedings," Parmas said, adding that such decisions have and will continue to be carefully considered beforehand.
The Office of the Prosecutor General asked Harju County Court to fine Sulev Vedler, Tarmo Vahter and their employer Delfi Meedia AS for publishing an article in the March 25 issue of Eesti Ekspress on an alleged money laundering investigation at Swedbank without the prosecution's permission. The second tier court found that even though permission from the prosecution is required for publishing pretrial proceedings information, the fines were not justified as the article did not damage the investigation.
Editor: Marko Tooming, Marcus Turovski