Journalist Wins Defamation Lawsuit

Lajos Gubcsi, former Director of Zrínyi Media Ltd. – a background institution of the Ministry of National Defense – initiated a defamation lawsuit against József Spirk, journalist of Index.hu, the leading online news provider in Hungary. The HCLU’s Legal Aid Service provided legal representation. The court ruled that facts written in the article were well-founded and as a result ruled in favor of the journalist. The ruling is final.

’Ascertaining criminally accountability would restrict freedom of speech and investigative journalism in a manner, which would mark the end of journalism’ – stated the court in its verbal ruling. The judge emphasized that while Lajos Gubcsi’s status as a public figure could be debatable, in his case, due to the attention generated by his position, the limit of tolerance may be higher. The judge specifically emphasized that a statue park located in the garden of a private home is not common, thus the attention from journalists should have been expected.

’Lajos Gubcsi turned the communications company of the Ministry of National Defense into a family enterprise. The Director, who deemed former executives of Zrinyi Media Ltd. a crime organization, has published two of his own books at his new workplace since summer and is also distributing his previous works through the company.’ – wrote Spirk in his article published in March by Index.hu. A few months later, Spirk found himself in court as a defendant. Gubcsi, well-known for his numerous scandals and the statue park in his private home garden, did not agree with a number of allegations of the article and tried to validate his points and attempted to prove that the journalist committed defamation with malicious motive or purpose, in broad publicity, causing considerable injury of interest.

During the procedure, the court examined a large amount of documentation including video material and called a number of witnesses. During arguements, Tamás Fazekas, Lawyer of the HCLU consistently confuted the plaintiff’s allegations.

It became known that László Kövér, Speaker of the House and Csaba Hende, Minister of National Defense both attended the opening ceremony of the statue park. It also became known that employees of Zrinyi Media Ltd. did in fact take part in servicing guests at the ceremony. Even though the wording was imprecise, it was also proven that Gubcsi sent cleaners employed by the Ministry of defense to tidy up after the ceremony – in addition to allegations in the article, it was found that these employees were not directly employed by the Ministry, but by a cleaning company contracted by the Ministry. The court also found that Gubcsi combined his activities and his private life by advertising his books on the Ministry’s website and by distributing and publicizing his books using the infrastructure of Zrinyi Media Ltd.

Tamás Fazekas stated that none of the defendant’s allegations are grounds for defamation, it is clear that the article only states facts. “If the journalist did indeed commit a crime, then investigative journalism has lost its meaning”.

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