satamediaOn 14 September 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held a hearing in the case of Satamedia Oy v  Finland. The judgment was reserved and is unlikely to be given for several months.

The applicant companies published a magazine which reported on taxation information, in particular on persons’ taxable income and assets. In 2003 one of the applicants started an SMS-service permitting people to obtain taxation information from a database. The database had been created using information already published in 2002 in the magazine on 1.2 million persons’ income and assets.

In February 2004 the Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman brought administrative proceedings concerning the manner and extent of the applicant companies’ processing of taxation data and in November 2009 the Data Protection Board forbade the applicant companies from processing taxation information to the extent that they had in 2002 and from passing such data to the SMS-service.

The case was the subject of a ruling by the CJEU on 16 December 2008 (Case C-73/07).  That Court decided that the applicants were processing personal data and whether or not this was journalistic activity was a matter for the national courts.

In June 2012, the Supreme Administrative Court in Finland found that the publication of the whole database could not be considered as journalistic activity but as processing of personal data, which the applicant companies had no right to do.

The applicants contended that the ban on publicationof the taxation data amounted to censorship in breach of Article 10.

By a judgment dated 21 July 2016 the Fourth Section held, by a majority of 6:1, that there was no violation of Article 10.  This decision was controversial, taking a narrow view of the meaning of “journalistic activity” and a strict application of data protection law (see, for example, Dirk Voorhoof’s post on this blog).

There is a webcast of the hearing on the Court of Human Rights website.