23 September 2003


RSF calls for reform of rules requiring payment of defamation fines before appeals are heard

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(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has called on Spanish Justice Minister José Maria Michavila to proceed at once with a promised amendment to the civil procedure code that would relieve media outlets of the requirement to pay heavy fines in defamation cases before the cases are heard on appeal.

The minister told the Spanish Parliament on 10 September that he would present such an amendment, which RSF believes is urgently needed. The present situation is jeopardising the financial survival of some media outlets and poses a threat to press freedom as it could encourage self-censorship.

In January 2001, a change to the civil procedure code provided for the provisional execution of lower court sentences without awaiting the outcome of appeal hearings.

Several media outlets have been negatively affected by the 2001 change. "La Realidad", an independent weekly in the northern province of Cantabria, was forced to close on 28 December 2001 after being fined some 160,000 euros (approx. US$184,000) for libel. "El Siglo" magazine was ordered to pay a fine of 120,202 euros (approx. US$138,000) on 21 January 2003 for the same reason. In February, the online newspaper "Canoa-Diariodirecto" and the television station Telemadrid were sentenced to pay fines of 120,000 euros (approx. US$138,000) and 500,000 euros (approx. US$574,000), respectively, as a result of defamation suits. On 10 September, a sum of 35,000 euros (approx. US$40,000) was seized from the bank accounts of "Canoa-Diariodirecto" and its editor Fernando Jauregui. The online newspaper has appealed the sentence and filed a complaint with the Judicial Council.


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