Sworn lawyer: There is a trend toward limiting freedom of expression

Karmen Turk.
Karmen Turk. Source: ERR

Sworn lawyer Karmen Turk said on ETV's "Ringvaade" talk show, commenting on the damages claim of PM Kaja Kallas' husband Arvo Hallik, that there is a trend in Estonia toward reining in freedom of expression.

Arvo Hallik, husband to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, sent a claim letter to former University of Tartu lecturer Valdar Parve and got an apology and €1,500 in compensation.

"Why has this case merited so much attention? On one side, we have someone who wrote an opinion article and who isn't even a journalist, while on the other, we have a member of an influential family," Turk described.

Host Grete Lõbu said that the author did apologize for stating falsehoods and paid the sum.

"Whether what was published is indeed a fact is something we don't know today. Legally, whether we were dealing with factual claims remains uncertain. A fact is something that's black and white, where there should be no room to argue," Turk commented.

"For example when [we know] a tomato weighs 300 grams. It makes no sense to argue whether we have a handful or half a bag of tomatoes in that case. It is a very important aspect. In this case, we are dealing with an agreement between the sides that it was a factual claim, which was retracted. That does not mean it makes it a fact from a legal standpoint," the lawyer explained.

Turk went on to say that if we're not dealing with facts, what was said becomes an opinion.

"And opinions run the gamut and may include parody and humor. An opinion is what I think of something."

Turk said that the claim may not have held up in court, adding that while the person who filed the claim is clearly in a public role [as husband to the PM].

The lawyer remarked that suing people for slander is undoubtedly a person's right. "We do not have to put up with lies. But the person must then decide whether they want to go to court, whether they want to dedicate the next three years of their life to achieving something. /.../ We all know the Streisand effect."

Grete Lõbu pointed out that if one side has more influence and money, the other might feel there is no point in even going to court.

Turk agreed, saying that going to court is an uphill battle against a more influential side.

"For example, if we have a labor dispute, the law prescribes a lot of protective measures for the employee because we expect them to be the weaker side. However, when it comes to these kinds of media disputes, where we are arguing over whether someone's opinion hurt someone else's feelings, whether it was unfair or out of place – we have no such protective measures there. In other words, we expect the sides to be equal. And if they are not really equal in terms of their means, it can be very difficult," Turk said.

"We are seeing a trend toward limiting freedom of expression. We do not have a freedom of expression law as such. Freedom of expression exists as is, and everything we add to it works to limit and restrict the space we have," the lawyer said. "Indeed, recent examples where people do not sue organizations, do not sue the public broadcaster, but go after the journalist directly... whereas everyone has the right to do so as both ERR and myself are the publishers of what we are saying here today."

The attorney also pointed out that compensation sums seem to be growing.

"While €1,500 is not that much, if we consider that the average salary of a journalist in Estonia is €1,407, it is more than a month's wages, a twelfth of annual pay. Whereas we are talking about someone who writes opinion pieces as a hobby in this case. They're not even a journalist," Turk said.


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski

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