Defamation Verdict Against Danish Reporters OK’d by EU Rights Court

(CN) – Two Danish journalists found liable for defaming a cancer hospital in a TV program were given a fair shake by Denmark’s court system and the verdict against them was justified, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday.

Mette Frisk and Steen Jensen worked for the TV station Danmarks Radio and worked as producer and chief sub-editor, respectively, on the network’s documentary-style program “When the Doctor Knows Best.”

In 2008, an episode of the program aired involving lung cancer and types of chemotherapy used at Copenhagen University Hospital. The episode reported supposed frustration from patients over being denied a choice in chemotherapy drugs, and asked whether patients should have been informed about other drugs that were more thoroughly vetted than the hospital’s choice.

Shortly after the episode aired, the hospital sued Frisk and Jensen for defamation, claiming the program essentially accused the hospital of malpractice. At trial, the hospital presented evidence the journalists knew patients were given choices as to how to treat their cancer as well as that there were no studies that another drug was better than the hospital’s choice.

Ultimately, the court sided with the hospital, finding the program had without a doubt given viewers the impression that malpractice occurred at the hospital, that its choice of chemotherapy drug was financially motivated, and that patients suffered and died as a result. The court fined the journalists the equivalent of 10 days’ salary each.

Frisk and Jensen took their case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming their right to expression had been violated by the Danish court’s verdict. They stood behind their research and said the program had resulted in changes at the hospital.

But a 7-judge panel of the rights court ruled Tuesday that the Danish court struck a fair balance between press rights and the hospital’s interests. The court also noted the journalists testified they refused to include statements and research from the hospital in the show, as well as the hospital’s answers to their questions.

Finally, the EU rights court agreed with the Danish court’s finding that any changes in the hospital’s practices stemmed from public outcry after the program aired – outcry spurred by the journalists’ biased reporting.


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