Federal Court confirms fine for NZZ am Sonntag journalist

The Zurich judiciary has rightly fined a journalist from the NZZ am Sonntag for publishing confidential statements by Federal Councillor Widmer-Schlumpf on the dispute with ex-Federal Prosecutor Erwin Beyeler. The Federal Supreme Court has upheld the ruling.

In April 2009, the NZZ am Sonntag published a text entitled "Schelte für den Bundesanwalt" (Scolding the Federal Prosecutor) about the dispute between the then Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and the then Federal Prosecutor Erwin Beyeler. The journalist quoted statements made by the Federal Councillor before the sub-committee of the National Council's Business Audit Commission. Among other things, Widmer-Schlumpf had said that she and Beyeler "always had arguments because we don't understand leadership in the same way.

400 franc fine

The Zurich judiciary sentenced the journalist to a 400 franc fine for publishing official secret proceedings. The Federal Court has now confirmed this decision and rejected the reporter's appeal. According to the judges in Lausanne, committee deliberations are confidential by law.

The purpose of the regulation is to ensure that the meeting participants can present their points of view freely and unhindered by external influences. This was a valuable asset. The subject of the meeting in question was the conduct of the Federal Prosecutor, his control by Widmer-Schlumpf and the resulting conflict.

Nothing new on the subject

The publication of the Federal Council's statements was likely to harden the fronts and make it more difficult to resolve the conflict. The state's interest in secrecy was therefore particularly great in this specific case. Conversely, there had been a considerable public interest in the issue in question. However, the dispute between the head of the FDJP and the Attorney General as well as the reasons for it had already been known at the time. The publication had therefore not contributed any substantially new information. Overall, the interest in secrecy had clearly prevailed. The conviction was also compatible with the freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. (Judgment 6B_186/2012 of 11.1.2013)

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