The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found that Switzerland violated the free speech rights of four journalists who were punished for secretly filming an insurance broker and exposing malpractice for an investigative consumer news broadcast.
A Zurich court had fined the journalists for recording private conversations and interfering in the broker’s private life. However, on Tuesday, the Strasbourg-based ECHR ruled that the public’s interest in learning about insurance industry malpractice trumped any violation of the broker’s privacy.
In addition, the court found that the Swiss ruling was unfounded because it could “discourage the media from expressing criticism” and violated the journalists’ rights to free speech.
Media rights expert and Swiss Public Television lawyer Ruedi Mayr von Baldegg called the ECHR verdict “an important decision for the watchdog function of the media”.
The broadcast in question was an edition of the television show “Kassensturz,” an investigative news programme on Swiss Public Television SRF that discusses consumer issues and exposes violations of consumer rights. It showed an insurance broker selling unnecessary insurance products to a young woman and was first aired in March 2003.
Switzerland’s highest court eventually overturned the lower court ruling regarding interference in private life because that portion of the case was not in the original indictment. However, the Federal Court did find the recording of the broker’s conversation unnecessary, stating that the same result could have been achieved by relying on other methods. It also ruled that the recorded conversation could not be treated as representative, since it may have been an isolated case of the broker giving bad advice.
swissinfo.ch and agencies