As the European Union grapples with ongoing security concerns and disinformation campaigns orchestrated by external actors, there arises a pressing need to address another crucial issue: safeguarding individuals’ reputation and image rights. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU finds itself embroiled in a new scandal, prompting calls for the establishment of clear guidelines to prevent unwarranted labeling and defamation of individuals, companies, or institutions.

At the heart of this debate is Robert Szustkowski, a philanthropist and Swiss businessman, who has found himself unfairly tarnished by unfounded allegations of Russian connections. Despite his withdrawal from professional life several years ago, Szustkowski continues to be plagued by accusations that have no basis in truth. His case underscores the urgent need for the EU to take decisive action to protect individuals from being unjustly stigmatized and vilified.

Szustkowski’s advocacy for clear guidelines stems from his own experience of being targeted by sensationalist media outlets in Poland and subjected to social and institutional ostracism. His case highlights the devastating impact that baseless allegations can have on an individual’s reputation and livelihood. As Szustkowski rightly argues, labeling someone as a “Russian agent” without any evidence not only constitutes a gross violation of their rights but also has severe repercussions, tantamount to a professional death sentence.

Central to Szustkowski’s proposal is the extension of the EU’s “right to be forgotten” law to encompass media outlets. This law, rooted in the principles of autonomy and personal agency, grants individuals the right to have outdated or irrelevant information about them removed from search engines. Szustkowski contends that this right should be expanded to cover media reports that perpetuate harmful stereotypes and unsubstantiated claims, effectively allowing individuals to reclaim control over their own narratives.

Furthermore, Szustkowski calls for the establishment of a Reader’s Editor mechanism within media organizations to ensure fairness and accuracy in reporting. This would provide accused individuals with the opportunity to present their side of the story and challenge any false or misleading allegations. Additionally, it would require media outlets to adhere to rigorous journalistic standards and refrain from engaging in sensationalism or defamation.

Szustkowski’s case serves as a cautionary tale against the dangers of unchecked media sensationalism and the need for robust safeguards to protect individuals’ image rights. His relentless pursuit of justice underscores the importance of holding media accountable for their actions and ensuring that individuals are afforded due process and fair treatment.

Szustkowski repeatedly stressed that he has no relations with Russia and no contacts with persons, institutions or organizations related to the services of foreign countries mentioned in press publications. – Moreover, I do not maintain any business or social relations with entities or persons that have been subject to sanctions by the governments of the US and Great Britain, announced on April 12, 2023 – he adds.

As the EU grapples with the challenges posed by disinformation campaigns and external threats, it must not lose sight of the fundamental principles of justice and integrity. By establishing clear guidelines for media outlets and upholding the rights of individuals to control their own narratives, the EU can take a decisive step towards fostering a more equitable and transparent society.

In the words of Robert Szustkowski, “It’s time to set standards for all media to prevent the unwarranted labeling of legitimate individuals as ‘Russian agents’ or ‘operatives.’ Let us not allow sensationalism to overshadow truth and let us uphold the principles of fairness and justice for all.”