Supreme Court on Kovalenko: False info must be retracted by publisher

The Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia explained in a ruling regarding the case of Anastassia Kovalenko that an individual who has published false information can generally be required to retract this information in the same place and way as it was first published.

In the civil case reviewed by the top court, industrial group BLRT Grupp AS in 2017 submitted an action to Harju County Court against Anastassia Kovalenko, the daughter of BLRT's small shareholder Valeri Kovalenko, in which it sought for the defendant to be obligated to retract some of the claims made regarding the plaintiff in the defendant's master's thesis as defended at the University of Tartu and published in the university's digital archive and media outlets. According to the plaintiff, the claims in question were incorrect and damaging to the plaintiff.

Harju County Court dismissed the action. Tallinn Circuit Court, in turn, annulled the ruling of the county court in parts with which it satisfied the action and obligated the defendant to retract the claims. The circuit court found that the defendant, who disclosed the claims in the form of an interview to a media outlet, can be required to retract the claims not only before the initial addressee of the statement, but the claims must be retracted in all media outlets they appeared in.

Ms Kovalenko submitted an appeal in cassation to the Supreme Court in which she sought for the annulment of the circuit court ruling and the ruling of the county court to be left in effect or, alternatively, the action be dismissed. BLRT Grupp also submitted an appeal in cassation in the same court case, but the top court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint.

Based on past practice of the Supreme Court, the Civil Law Chamber in its ruling on Tuesday explained that the victim generally has the right to demand that an individual who has published incorrect information about them retract said information in the same place and way as it was first published. This means that if the information was published in a media outlet, the retraction can be demanded to be published in the same media outlet, or if the information was disclosed to specific persons, retraction can be demanded before the same specific persons.

The Supreme Court also said that in cases where media outlets allegedly reflected information disclosed by the defendant in a previous interview, the defendant cannot be considered the publisher of the information published in that coverage. Thus, the plaintiff does not have the right to demand that the defendant retract information published in media outlets. However, the plaintiff has the right to demand that the defendant at their own expense carry out procedures necessary for the retraction of incorrect information in the same media outlets.

The Supreme Court partly satisfied the appeal in cassation of the appellant and returned the case for review to the circuit court.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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