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A new analysis by researchers at Madrid’s Complutense University and published today by the International Press Institute (IPI) offers the first systematic look at the levels of compensation awarded by Spanish courts in civil defamation cases involving the media.

Dr. Manuel Sánchez Diego Fernández de la Riva and Dr. Isabel Serrano Maíllo, both constitutional law professors, reviewed nearly 300 Spanish court judgments that involved compensation claims against media outlets or journalists for damage to honour.

The analysis also summarises key principles developed by the Spanish Constitutional Court and Spanish Supreme Court regarding the clash between freedom of expression and the rights to honour and reputation, including standards on truthful reporting, the publication of third-party statements, the “right to insult”, and liability for editors and publishers.

Data collected for the analysis show that plaintiff compensation in media defamation cases in Spain ranges from €600 to €125,000. The average award in the judgments reviewed was €24,580. The authors point out, however, than plaintiffs’ original claims were often much higher – up to €600,000 – than the final amount awarded.

These figures suggest that Spanish courts appear to award higher average compensation than their counterparts in northern and central European countries, based on previous IPI research. However, Spain remains well below the extremes found in Ireland and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom.

Commenting on the potential for high compensation to impact Spanish media houses’ economic viability, the authors noted: “The improvement of the economy favours an increase in compensation, but the average salary of media employees in Spain is much lower than awards in the range from €30,000 to €60,000, for which reason judges and courts should get accustomed to the idea that compensation for moral harm should not be a means for unjust enrichment.”

The analysis forms part of IPI’s research and monitoring work into the levels of compensation in civil defamation cases in Europe. While IPI generally considers civil litigation to be a preferable alternative to criminal defamation charges, excessive compensation can pose an equally serious challenge to press freedom as the threat of jail time.

Read the analysis in English or Spanish.