By Stefanos Evripidou
DISY MEP Eleni Theocharous lost a defamation lawsuit against local daily Politis on Wednesday after the judge ruled that politicians and holders of public office are expected to have a thicker skin against criticism than private individuals.
The defamation case was brought against Politis, its owner Yiannis Papadopoulos and local commentator Loucas Charalambous, the author of the contested article after it was published in the paper on January 10, 2010.
The article in question was a comment piece, inspired by the contents of an interview with Theocharous published by another paper a few days earlier.
In the interview, Theocharous was quoted by the other paper saying: “If implementation of the Annan plan depended exclusively on my personal ‘yes’, I would rather commit suicide (than give it).”
Charalambous accused Theocharous of adopting political demagoguery on the Cyprus problem. He called her a “political wanderer” who moved to DISY as a “transfer” from DIKO after failing to get elected as an MP. He further suggested she voted ‘no’ in the 2004 Annan plan referendum so as to hold on to her seat in parliament.
The paragraph that appeared to provide the greatest motivation to Theocharous to launch legal proceedings against the paper and Charalambous was the following:
“The super-patriotic MEP also tried to project her bravery in the interview, declaring that she would rather ‘do the dance of Zalongo (commit suicide) than join the harem of Ali Pasha’. I would like to assure her that there was no way she would end up in a harem.
“In October, I visited the harem at Dolmabahce Palace in Constantinople. I was impressed with its size and luxury as well as with the very strict selection criteria for the harem’s 120 women. The prettiest women of the Ottoman Empire were chosen.
“I think it is obvious that Dr Theocharous would never have set foot in the harem. At best, she could have got a job as domestic helper in the eunuchs’ quarters next door to the harem.”
According to yesterday’s Politis, Theocharous was upset with the last reference about her physical appearance. Her lawyer also argued that the comment piece depicted Theocharous as having used dishonest means to get elected, of changing her political convictions for personal benefit, and generally as a person without political values and ideals.
The plaintiff further argued that the comment piece undermined her character, ridiculed her, and brought to her disrepute, humiliation and public hatred.
However, in Wednesday’s ruling, the presiding judge of the Nicosia District Court Tereza Paraskevaidou-Karakanna said references to the external appearance of a person do not usually come within the meaning of ‘defamation’ as they don’t attribute to the plaintiff reprehensible behaviour or bad character, unless the plaintiff was exposed to ridicule and third persons are likely to avoid them.
The judge ruled that the specific text was clearly written in a mocking manner. Given the tone of the whole article, the fact Theocharous is a politician and not an actor or presenter, where one’s physical appearance is of the utmost importance, the judge ruled that the text could not be seen as defamation since the reference was not likely to expose her to ridicule or cause aversion and her exclusion from society.
As a former MP and current MEP, Theocharous can expect to have greater tolerance for acceptable criticism than the average private citizen, said the judge, noting that politicians and public officials expose themselves to close checks on their words and actions by journalists and the wider public.
“Criticism of actions and statements and the general behaviour of politicians and those who hold public office is a feature of a modern democracy,” said the judge, adding that as such, they should tolerate more public criticism.
According to Politis, not only will the paper not be ordered to pay compensation for defamation, but the plaintiff will now have to cover its legal costs.
The paper was represented by advocate Kalia Georgiou while Theocharous’ lawyer was former DIKO MP Andreas Angelides.
The Cyprus Mail tried but was unable to contact Theocharous, who is currently abroad on vacation, for comment yesterday.