Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Expands Expression
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In 2007, Extraconfidencial, a Spanish digital newspaper, published information regarding the performance of the former CEO of a television network called “Antena 3.” The article particularly noted that the company during the CEO’s 5-year term lost € 1.5 billion in capital as a result of poor quality TV programs and rising labor disputes. According to the newspaper, the CEO, meanwhile, had earned an income of more than € 6 million during that period.
The CEO then brought a lawsuit against the newspaper, alleging that its article violated his right to honor pursuant to Section 18 of the Spanish Constitution. The Supreme Court of Spain affirmed the lower court’s ruling in favor of Extraconfidencial. It held that one’s right to protection of his or her reputation can be limited by the broader rights to freedom of expression and information. But this limitation first requires the consideration of whether the information or opinion at issue was a matter of public concern and whether it met the additional requirements of truthfulness and newsworthy.
Extraconfidencial newspaper published an article, detailing the financial difficulties experienced by Antena 3 TV network. It also specifically made reference to an alleged conversation between the company’s CEO, Justiniano, and its director of communications, during which Justiniano asked not to publish a number of statements that could potentially damage his reputation.
Justiniano brought a claim against the newspaper, arguing that published article was an illegitimate invasion of his privacy and violated his right to honor pursuant to Section 18 of the Spanish Constitution. The first instance court agreed with the CEO but the opinion was later reversed by the second instance court. He then appealed the reversal to the Supreme Court of Spain. The CEO asked the Court to: (1) declare that the information published by the newspaper had violated his right to honor; (2) order the newspaper to pay compensatory damages and refrain from disseminating the information; and (3) order the newspaper to disseminate the judgment both in its electronic and print publications. ((CEO of Antena 3 v. Extraconfidencial, S.L., STS 2957/2015, p. 1 (2015).))
Justice Sebastián Sastre Papiol delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court.
The main issue before the Court was whether Justiniano’s rights to honor and privacy were violated by the impugned article published by Extraconfidencial.
As the lawsuit involved a conflict between one’s right to protection of his reputation and privacy and the right to freedom of information, the Supreme Court saw it necessary to examine the specific circumstances of the case. As a general rule, it first held that the protection of the right to honor “must prevail over freedom of expression when outrageous or offensive phrases and expressions are used.” ((CEO of Antena 3 v. Extraconfidencial, S.L., STS 2957/2015, p. 5 (2015).)) But “[t]he right to honor, is sometimes limited by the freedoms of expression and information. [And] [t]he conflict between the two law, must be resolved by constitutional weighting techniques, taking into account the circumstances of the case.” ((Id. at p. 4.)) The Court further held such evaluation must “respect the prevailing position held by the right to freedom of information” ((Id.)) because such freedom is an indispensable element of democracy. Still the Court found it necessary to consider relevant factors in balancing the two rights, including “whether the information or criticism has public importance or general interest or projected on persons exercising a public office” and whether the information at issue had an element of truthfulness and was newsworthy. ((Id. at p. 5.))
Applying the principles to the instant case, the Court concluded that the statements about the CEO and his company contained facts whose veracity could be verified. It also held that what was said in the article was “of general interest and public importance” because the TV network has a broad shareholder base in the country. ((Id. at p. 6.)) The Court found that the article’s purpose was not to insult the CEO as he failed to prove otherwise.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court of Spain upheld the second instance court’s decision in favor of Extraconfidencial newspaper.
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The Supreme Court of Spain is the highest judicial body in the Kingdom of Spain.
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