Firework-fined journalists’ appeal fizzles out

Two Danish journalists, who bought illegal fireworks as part of an undercover operation, have had their appeal to have the fines against them dropped rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.

Henrik Lindahl Christensen and Jacob Adrian Mikkelsen, from broadcaster DR, were fined DKK 6,000 (USD 1,164) each after presenting police with the fireworks they had purchased in the course of a story highlighting their availability on the black market.

The journalists consulted with both Aarhus and Copenhagen police after the purchase and were told to take the fireworks to a police station. While Aarhus authorities decided not to charge the reporters, as the act was deemed to be in the public interest, Copenhagen Police decided to issue fines once the goods were in their possession.

Christensen and Mikkelsen were found guilty by both the city and high court in 2006 and 2007, but subsequently took their case to the ECHR in an attempt to have their fines overturned. They maintained that article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights prevented them from being prosecuted for breaking the law in the name of public interest.

The court, however, claimed it was not essential to purchase the fireworks, as police already had many impounded. It also pointed out that the journalists had not given the police the opportunity to grant them prior immunity.

“We bought the fireworks because we thought it was important to document it for the programme. The fireworks were labelled and that allowed us to trace them back to established importers in Denmark. This is important information for the public,” said DR’s head of documentary Steen Jensen. “But the court found that the purchase wasn’t necessary to the extent that DR could be absolved of guilt for breaking the law preventing the sale of these fireworks,” he added.

(Homepage photo: Nuuk at New Year’s — not directly connected to story and for illustration only)