In July 2008, a listener’s text message was read aloud in a radio program of the Wereldomroep: “And yesterday night was very entertaining with Jonny Walker and the six drivers of Edgard Vermaas, who have become redundant due to a personnel cutback. Welcome at Van Doesburg.” The presenter of the radio program added to this: “That is collegiality says Don Frerik. As we already said before, of course we need collegiality on the road. Because it is already…yes that is hard to find. That is quite something, one business ceases to exist, the other business is taking over staff, I think that is awfully nice.” After the end of the program the Wereldomroep received an e-mail of another listener, who reported that the information in the text message was incorrect: Vermaas had not ceased to exist and had not fired six drivers. The next day, the presenter rectified the message on the radio.
Vermaas brought proceedings on the merits and claimed a declaratory judgment that the Wereldomroep is liable for the damage, and an advance payment to damages of EUR 25,000. According to the Court the starting point is that de Wereldomroep, pursuant to Article 10 of the ECHR, may disclose listeners’ expressions through the radio. The mere claiming of damages in a case concerning expressions also constitutes a restriction of this freedom of expression.
The Court points out the radio program’s nature. Listeners – mostly truck drivers – pass on information to each other in order to further their collegiality. This is often done via text messages or e-mail. According to the Court, however, this does not mean that the Wereldomroep itself is not responsible. If the contents of a message provide grounds for doing so, for instance if there are good grounds to doubt the correctness of the message, or if the message contains accusatory or hurting expressions, it may be expected in the scope of careful reporting that the editorial staff conducts some kind of investigation into the facts or asks the third parties mentioned in the message for a reaction. According to the Court, in this case there cannot be any doubt amongst the listeners about the origin of the message. It is clear that the information originated from a listener. The presenter also did not pretend that this information came from him. In the opinion of the Court the message did not contain any accusations and is not hurtful with regard to Vermaas, so that no further investigation was necessary. Furthermore, the emphasis was not on the business economic situation of Vermaas, but on the entertaining night of the drivers. Moreover, the Wereldomroep rectified the message during the next broadcast. The claims of Vermaas were rejected.
This case was handled on behalf of the Wereldomroep by Kennedy Van der Laan’s Jens van den Brink.