The Supreme Court has ordered the outspoken media commentator Federico Losantos to pay 100,000 euros to a former editor of the Abcnewspaper for continuously "insulting" him on air during a 20-month period.
"The constitutional right of freedom of expression doesn't recognize a presumed right to insult," the top court wrote in a recent ruling, which overturned a Madrid appeals court decision acquitting Losantos.
The ruling puts an end to the long court battle spawned by a defamation lawsuit filed by former Abc director José Antonio Zarzalejos, who was the subject of a string of attacks launched by Losantos on his morning program on the Catholic Church-owned COPE radio station. The justices wrote that the attacks by Losantos on Zarzalejos were "clearly offensive, unnecessary and pointlessly humiliating."
In a series of broadcasts, Losantos described Zarzalejos as a "bald person," "liar," "traitor," "practical illiterate," "useless person," "dimwit," "failure" and "poor devil," among other epithets. The broadcasts covered a period from January 2006 to November 2007. Many of the insults were triggered by Abc 's reporting on various controversial police inquiries, including the investigation into the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004. Despite its conservative editorial line, Abc did not follow the conspiracy theories espoused by El Mundo , which sought to establish a March 11 connection between the Socialists and ETA. The conspiracy theories were later debunked by the High Court, which found a local cell of Islamist terrorists guilty of the massacre.
It wasn't the first time that the firebrand radio commentator had gotten in trouble for his on-air remarks. In 2009, a Madrid court ordered him to pay 36,000 euros to then-Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who had sued the COPE broadcaster for telling his audience that the top city official didn't want to investigate the March 11, 2004 train bombings, even calling him "a son of Satan."
"I'll say it again, little mayor: 200 dead, 1,500 injured, and a brutal coup to kick your party out of power. But what do you care Gallardón, as long as you keep your job?" he asked then. Losantos left the station soon after.
Zarzalejos won his defamation lawsuit in the first round when a Madrid court in July 2008 ordered Losantos to pay him 100,000 euros in damages. The court had found that Losantos' comments went far beyond "humorous criticism" of a rival member of the media, as the radio presenter had claimed, and instead constituted "insults in the strictest meaning of the word."
The Supreme Court also agreed: "One thing is to make a personal assessment, unfavorable as it may be, and another thing is to constantly reiterate insults that are unrelated to the information that is being broadcast without justification."