Application Number 15890/89

European Court of Human Rights

Jersild interviewed members of the racist group ‘Greenjackets.’ During the interview, the members made derogatory and racist comments about ethnic minorities and foreigners living in Denmark. Jersild was fined for publishing racist statements. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 10.


Theme(s): Ethnic Hatred

Date: 23 September 1994

Description of applicant(s): Journalist

Brief description of facts: The editors of the Sunday News Magazine decided to produce a documentary on a racist youth group called the Greenjackets. Subsequently, the applicant contacted representatives of the group, inviting three of them together with Mr Per Axholt, a social worker employed at the local youth centre, to take part in a television interview. During the interview, which was conducted by the applicant, the three Greenjackets made abusive and derogatory remarks about immigrants and ethnic groups living in Denmark. On 21 July 1985, this was broadcast by Danmarks Radio as a part of the Sunday News Magazine.  Following the programme, the Bishop of Ålborg complained to the Minister of Justice. After undertaking investigations, the Public Prosecutor instituted criminal proceedings in the City Court of Copenhagen against the three youths interviewed by the applicant, charging and convicting them with a violation of Article 266 (b) of the Penal Code for having made the statements cited below:

“… the Northern States wanted that the niggers should be free human beings, man, they are not human beings, they are animals.”

“Just take a picture of a gorilla, man, and then look at a nigger, it’s the same body structure and everything, man, flat forehead and all kinds of things.”

“A nigger is not a human being, it’s an animal, that goes for all the other foreign workers as well, Turks, Yugoslavs and whatever they are called.”

“It is the fact that they are ‘Perkere’, that’s what we don’t like, right, and we don’t like their mentality … what we don’t like is when they walk around in those Zimbabwe-clothes and then speak this hula-hula language in the street …”

“It’s drugs they are selling, man, half of the prison population in ‘Vestre’ are in there because of drugs … they are the people who are serving time for dealing drugs …”

“They are in there, all the ‘Perkere’, because of drugs …”

The applicant was charged and convicted with aiding and abetting the three youths; the same charge was brought against the head of the news section of Danmarks Radio, Mr Lasse Jensen. The applicant and Mr. Jensen appealed up until the Supreme Court, with their appeal being dismissed.

(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Foreigners, persons of African descent

The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech: Article 10 had been violated since the applicant had been fulfilling his role as a journalist wishing to shed light, through the interview, on the problem of racism in Denmark. At no time did he share those views:

Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:

Para. 31: A significant feature of the present case is that the applicant did not make the objectionable statements himself but assisted in their dissemination in his capacity of television journalist. In assessing whether his conviction and sentence were “necessary”, the Court will therefore have regard to the principles established in its case-law relating to the role of the press.

The methods of objective and balanced reporting may vary considerably, depending among other things on the media in question. It is not for this Court, nor for the national courts for that matter, to substitute their own views for those of the press as to what technique of reporting should be adopted by journalists. In this context the Court recalls that Article 10 protects not only the substance of the ideas and information expressed, but also the form in which they are conveyed.

Para 33: It should be noted that the TV presenter’s introduction started by a reference to recent public discussion and press comments on racism in Denmark, thus inviting the viewer to see the programme in that context. He went on to announce that the object of the programme was to address aspects of the problem, by identifying certain racist individuals and by portraying their mentality and social background.

Para 34: Furthermore, it must be borne in mind that the item was broadcast as part of a serious Danish news programme and was intended for a well-informed audience (see paragraph 9 above).

Para 35.  The punishment of a journalist for assisting in the dissemination of statements made by another person in an interview would seriously hamper the contribution of the press to discussion of matters of public interest and should not be envisaged unless there are particularly strong reasons for doing so

ECHR Article: Article 10

Violation: Yes

Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? No