Susan J. Ferrell
International Moot Court Competition
The Lion Times Case
Piraguazu v. Concordia
Concordia is a country with a population of about 40 million. It is rich in natural resources, some of which are among its major exports today. It has a democratic government based the principle of the separation of powers and a stated respect for human rights.
Concordia has had a rather turbulent history. After winning its independence in the first half of the 19th century, the century that followed was a difficult one for Concordia. It was plagued by wars and skirmishes with its neighbors over territory, access to waterways, and other issues. Its history has also been marked by periods of civil strife accompanying the establishment and downfall of military governments. Although the last thirty years have been relatively stable ones for Concordia and democratic government appears to have taken a firm hold, that was not the case for the better part of its history. Indeed, over the course of its nearly 200-year existence it has alternated between democratic government and military dictatorship. For a time, democratic government was not able to hold its own for more than 17 years at a time.
Today, now that the military dictatorships are a feature of the past, the armed forces are no longer dreaded and have become institutionally integrated into the fabric of Concordian society. Indeed, young men look to the military to make careers that they might otherwise not have had.
Concordia’s history of foreign and domestic strife, military dictatorship and its wealth of natural resources have combined to create a vigorous military-industrial complex in Concordia. By the time Concordia had settled into more peaceful relations with its neighbors and itself, the arms industry was able to continue to flourish by courting external markets. By the 1990s, the arms industry was producing sophisticated conventional weaponry that competed well on world markets. Arms sales are the third leading source of revenue for the country’s economy.
The standard of living in Concordia is improving. It has a modern health care system, although in some of the outlying areas health care is poor. Because education is compulsory through the tenth grade, the literacy rate in Concordia is high. Given its well educated population, the newspaper business and the media in general thrive in Concordia, whose 1988 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and opinion and prohibits censorship.
II. The Facts
Pepe Vocero is a Piraguazuan citizen by birth and has for 17 years been a professional journalist with The Lion Times, the most widely read news magazine in Concordia. The Lion Times posted Mr. Vocero in the country of Angerona. While Mr. Vocero was in Angerona as a correspondent for The Lion Times, a border war broke out between Angerona and its neighbor to the south, Piraguazu. Mr. Vocero remained at his post in Angerona, reporting on the hostilities, gathering information for his stories from primary and secondary sources, including the 6 most widely read newspapers in the Angeronan media. As it happens, all six papers carried a story that concerned two Concordian cabinet ministers [the minister of defense and the minister of commerce] and implicated them in what one Angeronan newspaper described as “one of the most shocking developments in Concordian political history” involving illegal arms deals to Angerona. Concordia and several countries had already declared an arms embargo that prohibited shipments of arms to either Angerona or Piraguazu in order to avoid escalating the hostilities between the two combatant countries. However, the accounts reported in the Angeronan and Piraguazuan press were that the two cabinet ministers allegedly circumvented the embargo by signing off on legal arms shipments to other countries and then purportedly diverted the shipments to Angerona using counterfeit end-user certificates that falsely declared the weapons to be intended for other countries. Those press reports also alleged that the two cabinet ministers received hefty kickbacks and commissions from sources in the Angeronan government and from the Concordian arms manufacturers that supplied the weapons. One of the arms deals involved a cutting-edge, short-range missile manufactured in Concordia. This particular deal triggered a chain of events that resulted in the murder of the Angeronan Army Chief of Staff. It was the probe into the murder that uncovered the trail of illegal arms deals.
While this story was covered heavily in the Angeronan and Piraguazuan press, it had not received any coverage in the Concordian media. Pepe Vocero conferred with his editor at The Lion Times and the two decided to run a series of articles on the illegal arms deals being reported in the Angeronan and Piraguazuan press, particularly inasmuch as two members of the Concordian cabinet were the suspected arms brokers. They also reasoned that the scandal had to be on a much larger scale and involve other people both in government and business. Mr. Vocero drew his material from the accounts in the Angeronan and Piraguazuan newspapers. After all the relevant material was compiled in Angerona, Mr. Vocero’s editor recalled him to headquarters in Concordia, to cover the Concordian side of the story.
Before writing his articles, he made numerous attempts to interview the two cabinet ministers named in the press accounts, in order to get their side of the story. However, neither of the two was willing to meet with him. Mr. Vocero even submitted a questionnaire to the two men’s attorneys, but both attorneys answered that their clients would not dignify the questionnaire with a response.
Mr. Vocero and his editor considered the fact that neither man was willing to speak. However, they planned to run the series anyway because high-ranking officials in the executive branch of the Concordian government were purportedly involved. Vocero and his editor were careful to check and double check sources and facts. At an earlier stage in his career with The Lion Times, Mr. Vocero had worked in the pressroom of the Concordian Executive House. He decided to tap some of the long-standing sources he still had there in order to corroborate his facts. No one at the Executive House refuted the story, but asked not to be cited by name. Indeed, it was even said that the two cabinet ministers’ lifestyles had recently taken a decided turn for the better. There were also reports of them holding secret Swiss bank accounts, although Vocero was never able to corroborate these reports and therefore decided to steer clear of the Swiss bank account rumors.
Indeed Mr. Vocero claimed that because he was unable to speak with the accused officials directly, he intentionally tried to tone down the information originally reported in the Angeronan and Piraguazuan press. Ultimately, he ran a series of four articles. All the information reported in those articles was taken from the articles published in the countries of Angerona and Piraguazu
In the wake of the appearance of the articles, the two Concordian cabinet ministers named in the articles brought a criminal action against Vocero charging him with criminal defamation. In Concordia, private individuals –as well as the State- have standing to bring criminal actions. No sooner had the case been filed then the Public Prosecutor sought an order from the court prohibiting Mr. Vocero from leaving the country of Concordia. The Public Prosecutor and the plaintiffs reasoned that Mr. Vocero was a flight risk.
In their case, the two officials claimed that their right to privacy trumped freedom of information and that Mr. Vocero’s articles had besmirched their reputations and the reputation of Concordia. They argued that it was ludicrous to contend that they would circumvent an embargo that they were instrumental in establishing, and that as officials of the government, by attacking them Mr. Vocero was attacking the government as well. They insinuated that the actions of The Lion Times and its editor bordered on treason. They further insinuated that being a Piraguazuan, Mr. Vocero had an immediate interest in undermining the Government of Concordia, as his allegation was that two Concordian officials were selling arms to his native Piraguazu’s arch enemy, Angerona. In their case against Mr. Vocero, they alleged a violation of Article 63 of Concordia’s Defamation Law, and articles 7, 11, 12 and 14 of Concordia’s Code of Conduct for Journalists. Article 63 of the 1953 Defamation Law criminalizes “any language critical of or offensive to a public official as to the performance of the duties of his office,” the penalty for which was a fine upwards of $300,000. The suit also alleged a violation of Article 7 of the 1947 Code of Conduct for Journalists (hereinafter “the CCJ”), which requires that all information reported be “truthful.” Article 11 of the CCJ provides that: “Any journalist who reports false information or criticism expressed by third parties, spreads rumors or circulates offensive remarks concerning a public official’s performance of his functions and deemed by that official to be libelous, defamatory or slanderous, may face criminal prosecution. Said journalist shall be held accountable, whether or not he or she is aware that the reported information is false.” Article 12 of the Code of Conduct for Journalists provides that “A journalist accused of defamation, slander or calumny shall bear the burden of proving that the information he or she reports is true and that it was not reported out of reckless disregard for the truth or malice.”
In his defense, Mr. Vocero stated that the Concordian Constitution upholds the individual’s right to express his ideas freely and without prior censorship (Article 17 and Article 42), and made no exception for individuals who were not Concordian citizens. Specifically, Article 17 of Concordia’s 1988 Constitution recognizes the right to freely express and circulate thoughts, ideas and opinions, in speech, in writing or by any other means, and the right to freely communicate truthful information by any means. Article 42 of the Constitution provides that (1) “Every person shall have the right to express his ideas and opinions freely and through any medium, and shall not be subject to prior censorship, and (2) Books and other publications may only be recalled by order of the competent court.”
He argued further that what he reported had already been reported elsewhere, albeit in other countries, and that the public had a right to know information about their public officials.
The case was heard by the First Criminal Court of Ibarretta, the capital of Concordia. The judge who heard the case acquitted Mr. Vocero on the grounds that he had not acted with the malice that must be present in order for the crime to constitute defamation, calumny or spreading offensive remarks or rumor. The judge ruled that Mr. Vocero had acted out of a desire to report public interest questions being raised abroad about certain Concordian officials.
The two plaintiffs appealed the lower court’s ruling and won their appeal. The appellate court ruled that the “grounds for the lower court’s verdict were not explained in sufficient detail to eliminate any possibility of actual or potential malice.” The case was retried in the Criminal Court of Ibarretta’s Second Judicial Circuit. This time, the presiding judge convicted Mr. Vocero and held that “the defendant published the articles fully cognizant of the malicious nature of their content.” She also held that Mr. Vocero’s truth defense had failed because Mr. Vocero had not shown that the facts reported in the Angeronan and Piraguazuan press and repeated by him in The Lion Times were true, as required under Article 12 of the CCJ. The judge reasoned that Mr. Vocero had at best been negligent by reporting information that he could not prove to be true; she also said that the presence of actual malice could not be discounted, particularly inasmuch as Mr. Vocero was a Piraguazuan national. Indeed, the judge reasoned, by his own admission he had left out certain facts because he was “unable to corroborate them.” The judge pointed out that in fact, Mr. Vocero was not able to corroborate a single fact of the criminal conduct he was describing in his articles, that he had fail to show that his sources –i.e., the Angeronan and Piraguazuan newspapers- had themselves proved the facts that he then repeated. She considered this conduct to be actual or possible rumor mongering on the part of Mr. Vocero. Her conclusion was that since he could not prove his allegations, he had violated Article 7 of the CCJ, which required journalists to report “truthful” information. Accordingly, she upheld the plaintiffs’ claims that they had been defamed under Article 63 of Concordia’s Defamation Law. She convicted Mr. Vocero on seven counts of criminal defamation and sentenced him to 120 days in jail and a fine of $60,000. She also convicted him of violations of Article 12, Article 7 and Article 11 of the CCJ, and sentenced him to 6 months in prison for those violations. Finally, his name was entered into the Judicial System’s Register of Convicted Felons, which had severe consequences for Mr. Vocero: he would never again be issued a visa to travel to Concordia; he would never receive a non-resident work permit, etc.
Mr. Vocero appealed his conviction with the Ibarretta Appellate Court, which found that the lower court’s conviction of Mr. Vocero was a well reasoned and substantiated ruling and there were no grounds for reversal. It therefore did not grant his appeal.
Mr. Vocero then filed with the Supreme Court of Concordia to request a review of the Appellate Court decision. The Supreme Court granted review and examined his case. However, in a 6-3 decision, it confirmed the Appellate Court’s decision. All three of the justices who voted against confirmation of the Appellate Court’s ruling were eventually threatened with impeachment. Two chose to resign to avoid scandal and in order not to lose their retirement. The third judge in the minority on this case chose to go through the impeachment proceedings and was ultimately removed from the Supreme Court’s bench.
In search of protection by his home government, Mr. Vocero contacted the Consulate of Piraguazu. He requested that his Government seek precautionary measures on his behalf, to avert his prison sentence and the fine the Concordian court had ordered him to pay. He is also seeking to have his name erased from the Concordian Register of Convicted Felons. In response to Mr. Vocero’s request, Piraguazu filed a case with the International Court of Justice on his behalf.
Both Concordia and Piraguazu are members of the United Nations and both countries have recognized the compulsory ipso facto jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice pursuant to Article 36 (paragraph 2) of the Statute of the ICJ.