Unsolved murder case of a provost

15 December 1999

EPC discussed a complaint made by Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Jaan Kiivit concerning an article published in newsmagazine Luup headlined “Long shadow of violence” (by  R. Palmaru, 31 May 1999). The article deals with the still unsolved murder case of provost Harald Meri and his domestic help Valve Klein.

The complainant says that in the mentioned article minister Arne Hiob is groundlessly suspected of murdering two people, false facts are presented and thus the reputation of an individual as well as the whole church is damaged.

Luup’s chief editor Peeter Ernits finds the complaint unfounded as the chief inspector of the Central Criminal Police admits in the article that the same allegation was one of the main allegations investigated. According to the chief editor Luup acquired the information from a direct source – the people referred to in the article. Ernits says that the article has named no one a criminal, it just provides information based on proof and draws conclusions only in the form of suspicion.

EPC considered the article several times. The members of EPC were relatively unanimous in three aspects:

1.1. The critical observation of the implementation of power is the obligation of the press. Deriving from this, Luup’s attention to the circumstances why the Türi double murder case has not been solved within 10 years is justified. This objective set in Clause 1.2 of the Code of Ethics of the Estonian Press was well followed in Luup’s article of 19 April 1999 “Politicians broke the backbone of investigation” by R. Palmaru.

1.2. An article on a murder case dealing with a certain minister cannot be expanded to the whole church, in the same way as an article on a doctor cannot be expanded to the health system or an article on a teacher to a whole school. The article mentions the church only in the context of the specific murder allegation and the specific individual.

1.3. However, the mentioned article in Luup carries an ethical problem.

EPC could not find consensus as to the essence of the ethical problem. Due to the almost equal division of negative and affirmative votes the decision was taken by simple majority voting.

Based on the voting result, EPC finds that the article in Luup violates good journalistic practice. EPC supports its position with the following arguments.

2.1. The article covers one of the murder allegations in great detail at the same time leaving out other versions. Chief inspector of the Central Criminal Police says in Luup that it is “one of the main allegations” (EPC’s emphasis). Luup does not give comparable overview of the other possibilities. Also, when describing the Hiob’s version Luup leaves out the facts that have made it impossible to file an indictment against Hiob or at least make him a suspect. In this respect EPC finds that the public has not been presented comprehensive information as provided in Clause 1.2 of the Code of Ethics.

2.2. Luup has not named anyone directly as a criminal. Still, the newsmagazine has presented the version of suspecting Hiob of murder in a way that excludes other possibilities and the suspicion has been directly worded “Based on these details Arne Hiob and his friend Ennu Gansen can be suspected of murdering the provost and his domestic help”. EPC finds that in the context of ethics this kind of presentation can be considered as treating an individual as a criminal (Clause 4.4.). EPC reminds that previously EPC has considered condemnable the publication of names of the people taken into custody as suspects but later discharged (case 70, adjudication of 14 December 1994). EPC then found that even though the public has the right to this kind of information, publishing it prior to being convicted in a court of law is a breach of the right to protect one’s good name. But Arne Hiob is not even considered a murder suspect in this investigation. EPC finds that the mentioned murder version could have been presented without identifying Hiob.

2.3. The Presumption of Innocence should be considered as the general norm. That means that a person shall be deemed not to be guilty of the offence until he is convicted of the offence. The article in question caused undeniable harm to Arne Hiob. EPC can decide if the harm caused is justified under Clause 1.5 of the Code only in the context of the Presumption of Innocence. It does not become evident from the article what the general public gained from openly suspecting Hiob of murder or why the public interest exceeded the harm caused to Hiob. EPC finds that the article does not contain any new information that could have qualitatively changed the situation, e.g. impel the police to further investigate the case and take the case to court before it expires in April 2000. Therefore, EPC took the view that as Arne Hiob is not convicted of the murder, the harm caused to Hiob by the article is unjustified.

EPC finds that in the context of Estonian system of values a public murder suspicion never expires, it could be removed only when the actual murderer is caught. Luup and the journalist Raivo Palmaru had to know already before publishing the article that de jure the murder case would never be solved (see e.g. the investigator’s comments accompanying the Luup article, interview with Raivo Palmaru in the newspaper Sõnumileht of 3 June 1999 or Raivo Palmaru’s article in Sõnumileht of 28 June 1999). The fact that Hiob was still publicly suspected of murder has caused an ethical conflict. Due to that it is very likely that Hiob will never be able to free himself from the suspicion of murder.

2.4. EPC finds that also publishing information concerning Hiob’s alleged schizophrenia violates good journalistic practice. The article does not establish direct connection between the alleged illness and committing the claimed murder. In more recent interviews Hiob has refuted the statements of his illness. In its explanation to EPC Luup supported the claimed schizophrenia by the statements of two individuals, Hiob’s father and Ennu Gansen, to the investigator, but EPC notes that neither one is competent to judge Hiob’s actual health condition.

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