‘Family Drama’ Article Invaded Privacy, Rights Court Rules

The sun sets over the skyline of the Latvian capital of Riga in 2018. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — The European Court of Human Rights sided Thursday with a Latvian doctor whose family turmoil became a public spectacle when a reporter published the grousing of her elderly mother. 

Latvian courts “failed to strike a fair balance between the applicant’s right to respect for her private life… and her relatives’ right to freedom of expression,” the seven-judge panel at the Strasbourg-based court ruled.

Titled “A Family Drama,” the story that the Russian-language newspaper Čas printed in print and online in January 2005 reported that Dr. Irina Rodina had sold her mother’s apartment after committing the 76-year-old to a psychiatric institution. 

Rodina, who did not participate in the article, maintained that her mother was suffering from a mental illness and was well cared for. A lower Latvian court would later agree, finding in 2007 that “there was no proof that the applicant did not care for her [mother].” 

Thursday’s ruling details the efforts Rodina took to stop publication of the article after she was approached to tell her side. She said wrote a letter to the editor-in-chief after she was refused a meeting or the chance to review a draft of the article. “I am categorically against the planned publication of the article … because it concerns my private life and … reveals information about my personal data and that of my family members,” Rodina wrote.

Though the article did not include her surname, it did include a photo and certain biographical details, including her name.
“Even a neutral photograph accompanying a story portraying an individual in a negative light constitutes a serious intrusion into the private life of a person who does not seek publicity,” the ECHR found on Thursday. 

About nine months after the newspaper story appeared, the Latvia television channel TV3 aired a segment about the dispute.

Rodina sued Čas and its reporter five days after the televised feature aired, taking aim additionally at her sister and another relatives quoted in the first piece. She sued TV3 in late December, including her sister as a defendant to this case as well. The Latvian Supreme Court would eventually find that neither the article nor the broadcast violated Latvian law. 

Both outlets had argued that the media reports were in the public interest, but the ECHR disagreed Thursday.

“Both journalists did not refer to any broader social issues when reporting on this family dispute and the court does not discern any contribution to a debate of public interest,” the ruling states.

The ECHR was established by the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the civil and political rights of those living in its 47 member states. It is considered a court of last resort, so applicants must first exhaust their options in their national courts before filing a complaint.

The court ordered Latvia to pay Rodina 6,500 euros ($7,000) in damages and 3,800 euros ($4,100) for her expenses. 

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