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‘This beer sucks’ – Go directly to jail

Did you hear the one about the newspaper columnist who got tossed in jail in Hungary for criticizing wine from a state-owned winery? Fortunately, the European Court of Human Rights sprung him. From the original story:

Péter Uj trashed the celebrated TF1/LCI Sour wine, produced by the state-owned T. Zrt, in a column for Hungary’s daily newspaper. He said the wine was overly oxidized and used poor-quality ingredients, but “hundreds of thousands of Hungarians drink [this] shit with pride.”

After the column ran, he was convicted for libel in 2009 because the court found that Uj had unnecessarily insulted and infringed the wine producer’s right to a good reputation. His conviction was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in May 2010.

The European Court of Human Rights unanimously held on Tuesday that Hungarian judges erred, saying Uj’s article was intended to “raise awareness about the disadvantages of State ownership rather than to denigrate the quality of the wine company’s products.”

Political commentary is one thing, wine criticism another, it seems.

But imagine if he’d been writing about beer in . . . well, pick the beer-loving country of your choice.

11 Responses to ‘This beer sucks’ – Go directly to jail

  1. Zac July 25, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    I suspect this would never happen in Belgium, but I could see it happening in Germany. Of course, German beer is much better when you can actually have it in Germany, so criticism might be few and far between. It would never happen here as we are a country of critics. What do they say about a$$holes and opinions? Or is it blogs?

  2. Alan July 25, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    You know, sometimes I feel like some producers believe they have a right to a good reputation… which is separate from the idea of libel or criticism all together.

  3. Zac July 25, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    Alan, I agree. I don’t do a ton of straight beer reviews myself, but I try to be respectful as I still appreciate what decent craft brewers are trying to accomplish even when they sometimes fall short.

  4. Stan Hieronymus July 25, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    Alan – What about truth as a defense?

    It seems as if the word beer could easily be plugged into this sentence in place of wine: “wine was overly oxidized and used poor-quality ingredients.”

  5. Zac July 25, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Stan, wouldn’t a better way to write that be: “beer seemed to be overly oxidized as evidenced by a slight metallic taste…” Maybe the evidence of poor lacing or color and aroma suggest poor-quality ingredients.

    A good beer review, IMO, gives evidence to back up opinion. And even then, the review should suggest that the opinions are just opinions. Of course, I am terrible at writing unbiased, factually based opinions on beer.

    • Stan Hieronymus July 25, 2011 at 10:41 am #

      Yes, although we don’t know exactly how the commentary read. He may well have documented the use of lower quality ingredients.

  6. Zac July 25, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    True that. It’s still an interesting issue. One would have to wonder if there will ever be a time when we won’t get away with similar criticism. Of course, it sounds as if the writer didn’t get away with it for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised to see breweries go after bloggers who give them bad reviews. Most breweries appreciate the attention, but I bet there are some out there who get pretty salty.

  7. Alan July 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    “Alan – What about truth as a defense?”

    If they earn a reputation, they need not exercise any right to it. As we say in law, res ipsa loquitor… ergo no defense! The truthfulness of their product – it’s essential validity – would prove their reputation inherently.

    But, like any act of creation, they must earn the reputation daily or lose what they once had enjoyed.

  8. LStaff July 25, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Is this why the majority of beer writers aren’t very critical about beer? ;-)

    • Stan Hieronymus July 25, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

      The ;>) probably gives your thoughts away. I’d say it’s complicated. Probably a discussion to have another time.

  9. Kristen England July 27, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    The wife being Hungarian and personally having drank plenty of this Hungarian ‘plonk’ this dude wasn’t close to being true enough. Hungary, like many other Ex-Soviet states, do very poorly with truth. Most of the powers that be were either Soviet sympathizers or have it ingrained in them and things don’t change. State run everything is the way to go, right Comrade?

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