Lawyers, as well as journalists and politicians, should understand that freedom of expression and defamation are not synonymous, said Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) after her first instance court victory over lawyer Paul Keres in a case at Harju County Court.
"Little things like this provide some hope that maybe the world is returning to normal. And by normal I mean that everyone - lawyers, journalists and politicians alike - understand that defamation is not a free service in any way and can cost the defamer dearly. In any case, freedom of expression and defamation are not synonymous and this could be a lesson for those who believed all kinds of nonsense can be uttered with total impunity," Kallas said at a government press conference on Thursday.
Prior to that, Kallas had paused on the topic of the post-truth era to explain what she thought of the recent Fox News defamation case. The Estonian Prime Minister said, she hoped the post-truth era, which seemed to be begin in 2015-2016, is now coming to an end.
"Just the kind of populist triumphalism in a world where 'alternative facts' and conspiracy theories were introduced instead of the truth. Where the science-based approach was replaced by a faith-based one in the societal debate, and the globe also somehow became flat. These phenomena have not disappeared, but there is some small hope for improvement," said Kallas.
"If you take last week's news, whereby Fox News has to pay $800 million USD for libel. This shows that under the banner of freedom of expression, you cannot spread lies knowingly and with impunity. Not even the press," she added.
On Wednesday, the Harju County Court delivered its verdict on a lawsuit by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas against lawyer Paul Keres. The court found, the allegations made by Keres against Kallas to be false. Keres was ordered to €15,000 in compensation.
Keres will also have to pay Kallas an additional €13,410 in legal costs - €12,810 in legal fees (61 hours at an hourly rate of €210, including VAT) and €600 in court fees.
Oliver Nääs, Keres's defense lawyer during the case, told ERR that he plans to challenge the decision at the circuit court, which is the next level in Estonian court system.
"We will appeal further, as the decision is unfounded. Keres has never claimed that Kallas had a birthday party at the state's expense. Keres argued, that the events held by both (Mailis) Reps and (Kaja) Kallas were entertainment events and coincided with the birthdays of the individuals involved," Nääs wrote.
Kallas' lawsuit came about in response to comments made by Paul Keres, the defense lawyer of former education minister Mailis Reps (Center), on November 30, 2021 on Kuku Raadio talk show "Sihik."
"It was not her birthday, it was not her birthday party. Mailis Reps celebrated her birthday with friends and acquaintances at her house. This was an entertainment gathering with political partners. The same kind of so-called birthday party was held by PM Kaja Kallas this year, on June 17, which is her birthday if memory serves – I may have the date wrong here – which is when members of the government and partners received invites, also at the expense of the country," Keres said on the show.
The Harju County Court found, the statement made by Keres to be untrue. In addition to paying damages, Keres was also ordered to publish the following statement on Kuku radio's "Sihik" show within two weeks of the judgment coming into force.
"The statement made by me, Paul Keres, on Kuku Raadio's "Sihik" program on November 30, 2021, starting at 12 noon, (in which I said), that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas held a birthday party on June 17, 2021 at the state's expense, was false."
Keres is also required to publish similar statements in other media outlets that quoted his comments made on Kuku Radio. These include the paper and online versions of Postimees, the Delfi portal and television channel TV3.ee.
The amount of compensation awarded to Kallas is significantly higher than in similar previous similar cases. The court justified this, by pointing out, that in order to defend Reps, Keres had deliberately created a scandal in the media by presenting false facts and mis-judgements about Kallas, which drew negative public attention away from his own defendant.
The decision of the Harju County Court can be appealed at the Tallinn Circuit Court.
Editor: Michaell Cole