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Spain22 September 2003

Call for end to payment of defamation fines before cases are heard in appeal

Reporters Without Borders today called on Spanish justice minister José Maria Michavila to proceed at once with a promised amendment to the civil procedure code that would relieve news media of the requirement to pay heavy fines in defamation cases before the cases are heard in appeal.

The minister told the Spanish parliament on 10 September that he would present such an amendment, but the need is urgent because the present situation is jeopardising the financial survival of some news media and poses a threat to press freedom as it could encourage self-censorship.

The promised amendment would correct a change to the civil procedure code which took effect in January 2001 and which provides for the provisional execution of lower court sentences without awaiting the outcome of any appeal hearing.

Several news media have been hit by the 2001 change. La Realidad, an independent weekly in the northern province of Cantabria, was forced to close on 28 December 2001 after been fined some 160,000 euros for libel. The magazine El Siglo was ordered to pay a fine of 120,202 euros on 21 January 2003 for the same reason.

As a result of defamation suits, the online newspaper Canoa-Diariodirecto and the TV station Telemadrid were sentenced to pay fines of 120,000 euros and 500,000 euros respectively in February. A sum of 35,000 euros was seized from the bank accounts of Canoa-Diariodirecto and its editor Fernando Jauregui on 10 September. The online newspaper has appealed against the sente nce and has filed a complaint with the Judicial Council.

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