In various TV broadcasts Vara’s program ‘Kassa’ gave attention to the large number of complaints that the Consumer Authority and the Ombudsman had received about telecom company Pretium. In the broadcast Kassa handed over a ‘few kilos of complaints’ to the State Secretary, but did not provide Pretium with a copy of these complaints. However, in the studio Pretium was given the opportunity to give a reaction, but Pretium decided not to.
As a result of the broadcasts Pretium initiated preliminary relief proceedings against the Vara. Pretium won the proceedings on most points. Partly because prior to the broadcast the Vara had not reported the fact that a ‘few kilos of complaints’ would be handed over and because the Vara had not reported that the merits of these complaints had not been established, according to the judge in preliminary relief proceedings of the Court of The Hague Pretium’s interest in the protection of its reputation had to prevail over the interest of the Vara in the freedom of speech. Kassa had to remove and rectify the broadcasts. The Vara lodged an appeal against this judgment.
The Court of Appeal of The Hague has now rendered a judgment (in Dutch). Also in the appeal Pretium brought forward, inter alia, that it was in conflict with its right to be heard that it was not informed prior to the broadcast of the fact that Kassa would present complaints to the State Secretary, and neither that in the broadcast a ‘few kilos of complaints’ would be mentioned.
The Court of Appeal ruled that Pretium could not hide behind the fact that it was not aware that there were large amounts of complaints. After all, this had already been discussed before in another consumer program. According to the Court of Appeal, this is not altered by the fact that Pretium deems these complaints to be unfounded. Prior to the broadcast the Vara did not have to inform Pretium about the critical statements it would make and that it would mention a ‘few kilos of complaints’. If Pretium had wanted to dispute these critical statements, it should have refuted these statements during the broadcast. Since Pretium did not do so, this is for its own account.
The Court of Appeal concluded that the interest of the Vara in the freedom of speech outweighs the interest of Pretium in the protection of its name and reputation and quashed the judgment of the judge in preliminary relief proceedings. Victory for the freedom of speech!