Pownews – The more provocative, the more margin

The District Court of Amsterdam ruled in favor of broadcaster Powned concerning a dispute between ex-Buma/Stemra-board member / music publisher Jochem Gerrits and Powned.

Powned had claimed on its website and on its news program “Pownews” that Gerrits is corrupt. That allegation was based on a phone call between the authorized agent of composer Melchior Rietveldt and Gerrits. The phone call was secretly recorded by Pownews and its content was partially  broadcasted on the show. The content of the phone call was summarized by the presenter as follows:

“Jochem Gerrits is a board member with Buma/Stemra. In exchange for 33% of the profits he promises to discuss the matter with his fellow board members on Wednesday in the board meeting of the Collecting Society. The sooner Buma/Stemra will proceed with payment, the sooner Jochem Gerrits will receive a minimum amount of € 330.000.”

Gerrits filed a complaint  with the Press Council which decided in his favor. Following the Press Council decision Buma/Stemra issued a press release stating that it welcomed the decision. Buma/Stemra is probably less happy with the Court judgment.

The Amsterdam Court holds that it can be deduced from the transcript that Gerrits offered to use his influence as a board member of Buma/Stemra in exchange for one third of the profits on Rietveldt’s publishing rights. According to the Court Gerrits raised the impression during the phone call that he would bring up the Rietveldt issue from his position as board member as soon as he had a signed contract. For that reason Powned would have been allowed to proclaim that Gerrits is corrupt. A matter of interpretation of course, read the judgment and draw your own conclusion.

It is interesting that the Court finds that a press organ, in reporting on malpractices for which enough factual evidence is available, is free to exaggerate or to provoke to a certain extent, especially when the public is accustomed to an exaggerating or provocative style of reporting by the press organ concerned.

“(…) given the fact that Pownews viewers will deem exaggeration as inherent to the Pownews show, the remarks [a.o. “corrupt as hell”, DH] do not breach the standard of due care which must be observed in society.”

In other words: because Pownews is known to be provocative, claims in the show are less quickly held unlawful. Fortune favors the bold.

Daniël Haije

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