Thursday, July 26, 2007

Where do you draw the line?

This incident raises an interesting question concerning the thin line between freedom of expression and defamation or hate speech.

On 4 January 1994, the newspaper Le quotidien de Paris published an article by the Austrian historian and journalist Paul Giniewski (1926–), entitled “The obscurity of error” concerning the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993; The Splendour of Truth). In it,Giniewski wrote that “...Many Christians have recognized that scriptural anti-Judaism and the doctrine of ‘fulfilment’ of the Old Covenant in the New lead to anti-Semitism and prepared the ground in which the idea and implementation of Auschwitz took seed”. On 18 March 1994, the Alliance générale contre le racisme et pour le respect de l’identité française et chrétienne (AGRIF; General Alliance against Racism and for Respect for the French and Christian Identity) brought proceedings against the newspaper, its director, and Giniewski on charges of racially defamatory statements against the Christian community. Giniewski was convicted before domestic courts. On 31 January 2006, however, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said that it did not accept the argument of the domestic courts that Giniewski’s words amounted to accusing Catholics and Christians in general of being responsible for the Nazi massacres, and that Christians were therefore victims of defamation on account of their religious beliefs. The ECHR considered that Giniewski had sought to develop an argument about a specific doctrine and its possible links with the origins of the Holocaust. In so doing, he had made a serious contribution to a wide-ranging and ongoing debate. The article in question did not contain attacks on religious beliefs as such, but a view which Giniewski expressed as a journalist and historian. As in the Chauvy case (2004), the Court declared that “it is an integral part of freedom of expression to seek historical truth”, and that “it is not its role to arbitrate” the underlying historical issues. Giniewski’s article did not incite to disrespect or hatred nor did it cast doubt in any way on clearly established historical facts. The Court ruled unanimously that Giniewski’s freedom of expression had been violated.[Source: ECHR, Case of Giniewski v. France: Judgement (Strasbourg 31 January2006).]

1 comment:

Tara said...

hi, please check out the British Columbia Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee blog