No Censorship in Fines for Taboo Broadcasts

     (CN) – Fines imposed by the Cypriot broadcasting authority to protect children and consumers, and to punish the airing of discriminatory content, did not violate the right to free expression, Europe’s highest human rights court ruled.
     Sigma Radio Television challenged the imposition of fines for inappropriate content and practices by the broadcasting regulatory body, leveled 27 times from 2000 to 2002.
     Infractions included undisclosed product placement, lack of objectivity in news reports, disrespecting victims of crime, and the airing material unsuitable for children and youth. Sigma was also penalized for broadcasting statements “offensive and disrespectful … of Arabs, Russian women and women in general.”
     The Cyprus Supreme Court dismissed challenges to all but four of the fines. The company appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in 2004 and 2005, alleging that the penalties violated its rights to a fair trial and to free expression.
     A seven-justice panel of the human rights tribunal, based in Strasbourg, France, said first that the Cyprus Supreme Court’s judgments had been independent and impartial, and thus protective of due process.
     On the free-speech claims, the court ruled that the regulator’s interference was proportional, as it aimed to protect consumers and vulnerable groups such as children.
     The human rights court paid special attention to the charges of racist and discriminatory remarks, ruling that a fine of about $5,000 was appropriate to protect the rights of others. The court emphasized the “vital importance of combating racial and gender discrimination in all its forms.”
     The European Court of Human Rights determined that imposition of the penalties had violated no human rights.

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