No resting place for old camels

5 April 2000

EPC discussed a complaint made by Ernesto Preatoni (represented by the clerk of sworn advocate Lauri Paulus from the law office Legalia) concerning the translation of an article of the Swiss newspaper Die WochenZeitung published in the Estonian weekly Eesti Ekspress headlined “No resting place for old camels” (24 February 2000).

The complainant found that the original article contained distorted facts leading to pejorative judgements. The complainant said that Eesti Ekspress had not checked if the information to be published was truthful and the sources reliable and thus had deliberately harmed an individual’s reputation.

The chief editor of Eesti Ekspress Aavo Kokk explained that the article was a translation and its content was in no way distorted. The article contained important information on Ernesto Preatoni as a public figure with significant economic power. Eesti Ekspress had offered Ernesto Preatoni an opportunity for rebuttal but Preatoni had turned it down. However on 30 March the rebuttal in question was published.

EPC took the view that Ernesto Preatoni, a well-known businessman operating in Estonia who recently received Estonian citizenship for the achievements of special merit, is considered under Clause 1.6. of the Code of Ethics a public figure. As Preatoni enjoys extensive economic power, closer scrutiny and criticism of his activities in the press is justified. EPC finds that in a case where critical comments are published in economic regions where an Estonian public figure has previously been operating, it is justified to make this kind of information known to the Estonian public.

EPC finds that the materials published in foreign press should be presented in Estonian context and this is exactly how Eesti Ekspress dealt with the matter: it published the article of Die WochenZeitung (of 24 February 2000) as well as an interview with the author Paolo Fusi (2 March 2000). EPC did not consider it possible that the original text of the article would be changed in the translation even if it did contain distorted facts. These could be clarified in comments and rebuttals accompanying the article, which was the case with Eesti Ekspress.

EPC is not in the position to decide if the facts presented in the article are reliable. In the EPC’s view factual errors should be corrected through rebuttals and Eesti Ekspress did offer Ernesto Preatoni an opportunity for rebuttal. At first Preatoni turned the offer down but later on still had his rebuttal published in Eesti Ekspress of 30 March 2000. The rebuttal was published in accordance with Clause 5.2 of the Code.

EPC finds that even though printing media must be responsible for the published facts, in this case two principles of good practice have clashed: the requirement of factual accuracy on the one hand and the obligation to publish important information concerning an influential public figure on the other. The clash could be reduced by the third principle of good practice – the right to reply – and the newspaper did use it. Preatoni was offered an opportunity for immediate rebuttal (during the preparation of the translation article Preatoni was out of Estonia).

EPC found that Eesti Ekspress had not breached good journalistic practice.

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