Alexela takes Estonian daily EPL to court over Russian business articles

Heiti Hääl.
Heiti Hääl. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Estonian energy group Alexela AS has taken daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) to court over the latter's articles about the group's business activity in Russia in 2022 and an editorial calling on readers not to get gas at Alexela gas stations.

"AS Alexela and Heiti Hääl have filed a suit against Delfi Meedia in connection with an article published June 19 in which EPL covers the subject of how Estonian fuel companies are doing business with Russia during the war and the EPL editorial published the next day on the same subject," Delfi Meedia chief Argo Virkebau told ERR.

According to Virkebau, Alexela and Hääl find that these articles contain incorrect factual statements and are demanding a rebuttal of these incorrect factual statements as well as damages.

"Delfi Meedia explained immediately after the article was published that we have carefully verified the claims published, and that we are prepared to defend the information published in court," he recalled. "It's too early to gauge the prospects of the dispute, but we're heading to court at peace."

The media house is being represented by Mari Männiko, attorney-at-law at PwC Legal Estonia, who said they've taken on the case and now have nearly two weeks to present their arguments to Harju County Court.

"In short, the gist of Alexela's suit is that they're not complaining that the factual statements published by EPL are false, but rather why only Alexela's activity was reported there if other companies are doing the same thing too," Männiko said, commenting on the suit. "Alexela claims that this has damaged their reputation."

Alexela AS and Heiti Hääl's contractual representative, attorney-at-law Kadri Michelson, said that because the matter wasn't successfully settled out of court, then they had no other choice in the matter but to take it to court.

"This isn't merely the publication of incorrect information and slander toward Alexela, but an inaugural adventure on the Estonian media landscape in which the editorial of one of Estonia's most read daily papers explicitly called for a boycott of a company," Michelson said, commenting on the reason for filing the suit.

"EPL was evidently inspired by the foreign media, where similar calls have previously been issued in connection with Russia's aggression, but under completely different circumstances — such as Mondelez selling Oreo cookies on the Russian market," the lawyer noted.

"These situations aren't remotely comparable," she continued. "In Alexela's case, Delfi/EPL decided to call for a boycott based on untrue circumstances, and by creating an impression of Alexela in readers as the only supplier of LPG of Russian origin and an unethical business."

Heiti Hääl, who is taking the paper to court alongside Alexela, is himself likewise the co-owner of a media outlet — the evening paper Õhtuleht — together with Hans Luik, who in turn is the majority shareholder in Estonian media and publishing company Ekspress Grupp, to which Delfi Meedia's EPL belongs.

Commenting on Hääl filing a suit against his business partner, his lawyer said that the media has significant power, and that that cannot be abused, but if this has been done, and business has unlawfully been interfered with, then one must be held accountable for it.

"And regardless of ownership," Michelson stressed. "The EPL/Delfi editorial team's duty to accurate and professional journalism in no way depends on the owner's business interests in other ventures."

Michelson is also deputy chair of the Estonian Press Council.

Hääl told ERR that he would not comment on the case.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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