Magazine Cover of Greek Goddess Sets Up International Defamation Showdown

According to an indictment against German weekly "The Focus," the cover "displays photos of the ancient statue of Aphrodite as deformed" with "a torn flag of the Greek state covering the body ... altering the meaning of the flag."

Tensions have been running high in recent months between the Greeks and the Germans over the issue of whether and how Greece should be bailed out from its debt crisis. The fight among nationalities is now playing out in a unique trial to determine whether a German magazine committed defamation by modifying an iconic image of Venus de Milo to show the Greek goddess throwing her middle finger up to the European Union. The case demonstrates that libel laws around the globe are far from uniform.

According to an indictment against the publishers and 12 journalists at German weekly The Focus, the cover "displays photos of the ancient statute of Aphrodite as deformed, i.e. dirty, a torn flag of the Greek state covering the body of this statue from the waist down, thus altering the meaning of the flag as a symbol of the state."

On Tuesday, a Greek judge declined to dismiss the charges, throwing it to a jury trial that is scheduled to resume on Dec. 10.

Americans have become accustomed to certain standards for bringing defamation claims. Lawsuits have been constrained by free speech outlined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

Not all countries agree with the U.S. standard, however. Greece is one territory where there's criminal liability for insulting someone, where you can defame a corporation, where disparaging the memory of a deceased individual carries a penalty of six months in prison, and not last nor least, individuals have to be careful about not disparaging the honor of national symbols and heads of a foreign state.

According to local reports, the charges against the journalists in this Venus de Milo case carry up to two years in jail as a penalty, though it's not clear how the country intends to enforce a judgment. None of the journalists showed up at the most recent hearing. If they do, Greek law allows journalists to pursue a defense that they were serving the public interest.

We'd like to report that the defamation laws derive from ancient Greece, but according to our best research, they seem more attributable to the Romans, specifically from edicts made by the Praetors around 130 A.D. Back then, it was illegal to shout at someone of good morals in the public square, use obscene language, and make some questionable declarations of a woman's chastity.

Lately, Hollywood celebrities have been throwing out many insane defamation lawsuits, but imagine if these standards were still being used. Kim Kardashian might have to employ a legal force greater than the Spartan army.


Twitter: @eriqgardner