After nine-year legal battle, Chile's Supreme Court absolves media director accused of slander

After a nine-year legal process that involved several courts, the Supreme Court of Justice in Chile absolved a journalist accused of slander, according to the web portals of Cooperativa Chile and the country's judicial branch.

Francisco Martorell, director of the bi-weekly El Periodista, was accused of slandering businessman Jorge Rabié after one of Martorell's sources accused Rabié of links with Claudio Spiniak, the leader of a child prostitution ring that was dismantled on Sept. 30, 2003.

Because of the process against him, Martorell could not leave the country and had to pay a fine and report to authorities every night for 61 days, El Periodista reported.

The Supreme Court ruled that "it was impossible to establish the journalist's responsibility in the slanderous comments published in the news outlet," according to the official website of Chile's judicial branch. The Court also ruled that the lower courts misinterpreted the law regarding the responsibility of media directors and third-party declarations.

For Reporters Without Borders, the Supreme Court's decision was "an important and necessary precedent" regarding the interpretation of the law on freedom of opinion and expression. However, the organization called for the complete decriminalization of the so-called "press crimes" (slander, libel and defamation) in Chile, just like other countries in the region have done.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.