HERE is one field of the law that attracts, in my opinion, the most confusion in Spain: defamation.
Whether this is in the form of slander, via spoken word, or in the form of libel, which requires written, broadcast or otherwise published words, there is always uncertainty.
The difficulty in establishing a clear boundary between freedom of expression versus the right to one’s reputation just complicates the matter.
In Spain, unlike the UK, we have another form of defamation called ‘calumny’, which is committing a crime by spreading or publishing a falsehood when you either know it is not true, or with ‘reckless’ contempt of the truth.
Calumny is a criminal offence, while defamation is mostly a civil matter, unless the comments are perceived to be very serious.
And although the prospect of saddling someone with a criminal record for such a matter might seem repressive, thankfully Spanish courts generally favour free speech over individual reputations and libel cases are rare.
In other countries, particularly the UK, draconian libel laws have almost created a culture of silence in some areas of the media.
It is true to say that some publishers appear cowed – and are put off pursuing stories – due to the threat of getting a legal letter from a top-notch specialized legal firm such as Carter Ruck.
This is heightened when knowing that English libel law is notoriously skewed in favour of the person making the claim. Payouts are also often massive.
Fortunately, Spain’s legislators do not share these views and therefore the number of defamation cases is comparatively low. The sums awarded are also reduced and interim injunctions, super-injunctions and other gagging orders made famous this year with various footballers are almost unheard of.
If you were to ask a lawyer about how to word a certain comment or communication to avoid legal letters, most would not know what to say as we are not imbued with such culture (myself included!).
The bottom line is to ensure that you are fundamentally telling the truth as accurately as possible. Also, limit content that may be viewed as insulting or demeaning.
If those two requirements are met then you can probably resort to generous doses of irony, sarcasm, caricature and humour as they all form part of the right to freedom of speech and expression, more so now that Franco’s Spain is a very distant memory.
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