Court grants interim protection to public media ombudsman Anda Rožukalne and obliges SIA Mediju nams to block public access to article published on the website on 21 November 2023.

Anda Rožkalne has held the position of public media ombudsman since 1 March 2022. In performing her duties as ombudsman, Anda Rožkalne prepares opinions on the compliance of public media content with the norms of professional ethics, maintains personal contact with  representatives of public, advises public media employees, participates in the drafting of self-regulatory documents, conducts research on public media content, and writes explanations and carries out other public activities in order to promote public media literacy, as well as performing other functions of the public media ombudsman referred to in the law.

On 21 November 2023, SIA “Mediju nams” published an article by Māris Krautmanis on the website, entitled “Suspected violations of the law by the public media ombudsman Anda Rožukalne” (“Aizdomas par sabiedrisko mediju ombuda Andas Rožukalnes likuma pārkāpumiem”). As the title of the article suggests, its content aims to raise negative sentiments about Anda Rožukalne as the public media ombudsman. Various false details and offensive opinions are published in the article, with the author of the article claiming that Anda Rožukalne is breaking the law, as well as not fulfilling her ombudsman’s duties, protecting the state broadcaster from any criticism, and and generally leaving the ombudsman’s work undone in order to promote her own personal wellbeing while working at a university.

In view of the offensive nature of the article, in January 2024 Anda Rožukalne appealed to the Riga City Court with a request to evaluate the actions of SIA Mediju nams in allowing the publication of such an article. In the claim, the court is requested to impose an obligation on the publisher of the article, SIA Mediju nams, to retract the news insulting her honour and  insulting her honour and damaging her public esteem, and to compensate for the moral damage caused.

At the same time, interim protection was requested: blocking public access to the article that was published on the website. The interim protection was requested, because, if the article remained in the public domain for the entire duration of the proceedings – possibly lasting years – it is likely that the content of the article would become known to a wider public and thus cause irreparable damage to the ombudsman’s reputation. In today’s information space, it cannot be expected that a retraction of an article that is several years old, even if published with an apology and in the same place as the original article, will be able to prevent or even influence the negative publicity generated during the relevant years. Moreover, any reputational damage is by definition irreversible for someone holding the position of ombudsman, as by law only persons with an impeccable reputation can hold the position of ombudsman.

On 2 February 2024, the court granted the request for temporary protection and ordered SIA Mediju nams to block public access to the article.

In evaluating the evidence initially submitted to the court, as well as the author and context of the article, the court concludes in its decision that the statements made in the article clearly do not reflect the facts. The article intends to defame the reputation of Anda Rožukalne as ombudsman by making claims without basis in concrete evidence. Thus, the court prima facie concludes that the probability of satisfying the claim is higher than rejection.

The court also explained that the role and purpose of a journalist in a democratic society is to share information and ideas on all matters of public interest, but that such action must not violate a person’s right to respect for his or her private life.

Taking into account the abovementioned facts, the court recognised the requested application of temporary protection as proportionate. This protects the legal interests of Anda Rožukalne and does not create unreasonable restrictions for SIA Mediju nams in disclosing current issues and possible illegal activities to the public.

Sorainen team

Anda Rožkalna is represented by partner Andris Tauriņš and associate Katrīna Bičevska.