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El Mundo journalist coerced victim, published false details and never got interview for story, court rules

Nov 20, 2019, 8:45 pm
News: Javier Negre wrote that a young woman had been tortured, when she had not been. Court describes "painful and unnecessary invasion of the privacy of the plaintiff and her family".

An interview with a young woman from Cuenca that El Mundo published as part of a report on Sunday, February 21, 2016 was never granted, a court in the city ruled in July. The newspaper also used a Facebook photo of hers without her permission, wrote that she was tortured when she was not, and that she could have avoided the deaths of two murder victims—killed by her former boyfriend, Sergio Morate-García, "the Cuenca murderer"—when she could not have done so.

The reporter whose byline appears on article, Javier Negre, so insisted on trying to talk to the woman and on getting a picture of her that the judge went as far as describing coercion in the ruling, 125/2019, dated July 18, 2019, from Investigating Court nº3 in Cuenca.

The Spain Report has obtained a copy of the ruling. The actions of the journalist and the newspaper constitute a "painful and unnecessary invasion of the privacy of the plaintiff and her family, without the consent of the plaintiff", wrote the judge, Miguel Girón Girón.

"From the evidence given on the record, it appears that the Journalist, today a codefendant, turned up at the plaintiff's parents' home, and did not achieve his aim of interviewing the plaintiff, and began to force the plaintiff to hold a meeting with him in private via Whatsad [sic, WhatsApp], even telling her it was better she give him a photo even if it was of her hands or feet, than using a photo he had, which is almost as much as coercion", concludes the judge.

The lawsuit filed by the young woman's lawyers described how Mr. Negre came to her home "at his own risk and with no notice" on February 11, 2016, and told the woman's mother that he was a friend of her's "to get P's mother to open the door of the building".

He identified himself as a journalist to her father, who opened the door of the house, and asked to speak with the young woman about "the matter of SM", her prior relationship with Sergio Morate-García. Both the father and the plaintiff refused "categorically" to grant "any interviews".

"Despite the father's clear response, the journalist continued to insist on seeing her and talking to her, and the conversation grew more heated". "An open discussion on the landing of the stairs" even took place, "between the reporter and my client's father".

The young woman came out to tell the journalist "that she did not feel like reliving it all" and "asked the journalist repeatedly how he had obtained her address, but he refused to reveal his source".

Given Negre's insistence and the woman's refusal, there was another argument with the father "who definitively settled the issue by ordering him more resolutely to leave and leave them alone".

Hours later, her lawyer told the court, "the El Mundo reporter contacted my client by phone via the WhatsApp application", insisting again "on seeing my client alone and getting an interview and a photograph of her that she did not agree to in any way".

Mr. Negre had remained at the plaintiff's home "despite the indications that he should leave both from the plaintiff and above all from the father", Judge Girón ruled, in favour of the plaintiff, "and the coercions carried out via WhatsApp to take the picture he had if she didn't give him another picture of her feet or hands".

"The plaintiff did not consent at any time to conduct an interview and in fact, the published report cannot be said to be based on an interview, because it seems rather to be a report, done without the consent of the plaintiff".

Neither was she tortured by Morate-García, as the El Mundo report and the headlines said. In reality, she was "threatened and illegally detained". That part of the article "is therefore untruthful, and of course should not have been included in the report".

The use of a photo from the woman's Facebook in the El Mundo report "was of course not consented to by her, as the defendant himself recognises, although he points out that it was not intended to belittle her, and that it was revealed by social networks".

The fact P.T.N.A uploaded a photo on her Facebook page does not entitle El Mundo to use it in a report, wrote the judge, who cited legal precedent from the Supreme Court in 2017 on the matter.

Mr. Negre's report, Judge Girón writes, "conveys the opinion that it would have been in the hands of the plaintiff to avoid a double crime, if she had alerted M's partner to the pathological jealousy he suffered from". One of the subtitles in the El Mundo report was "Deadly Jealousy". That was not true: "The relationship of the plaintiff to the deceased has not been proven".

"All this exceeds merely neutral and truthful journalistic reporting and has damaged her honour in the place where she resides."

At no time had the identity of the plaintiff been published until Mr. Negre's report. Her privacy "was violated" by the El Mundo article.

In response, lawyers for Unidad Editorial argued that "the facts were known in Cuenca" and that both the plaintiff and her family "were aware that, in fact, everything that happened was already known in that city".

They did not accept the young woman had become known in the media as a result of Mr. Negre's article in El Mundo, nor that the interview had taken place without her consent: "it is not nonexistent at all, but quite the opposite".

There is no reference in the ruling to evidence that would support the newspaper's version.

They argued the Facebook photo had been published "fully pixelated out" and that "it is incomprehensible that a person with these characteristics" should publish a photo on that social network, "without the slightest caution", but that in any case her identity "was revealed on social networks that transformed [the photo]".

She herself gave her phone number to Negre, the company argued, "if not, how would he call and have a second conversation via WhatsApp with her".

The Public Prosecutor's Officer concluded that the complaint against the newspaper should be upheld.

"The invasion of her right to honor has been accredited, as the plaintiff on one side points out, the report transmitted a completely opposite image to reality", says the judgement, "making her out (especially in the view of her neighbours in Cuenca) to be a person who sought media relevance and economic profit at a time of great shock to the people of Cuenca, granting an interview to a national media outlet on a completely lurid matter, to take advantage of residents' and affected families' pain".

Unidad Editorial SA and Unidad Editorial Información General SLU have been ordered to compensate P.T.N.A. with €30,000 euros in moral damages, to publish the correction requested by the plaintiff three years ago in El Mundo, as well as "the total or partial publication of the ruling […] with at least the same length and the same public dissemination as the invasion of privacy" that took place due to the publication of the report, which was headlined "The first woman tortured by the Cuenca murderer speaks out" and carried Javier Negre's byline in the Chronicle supplement on February 21, 2016.

The judge deemed relevant, in the economic part of the ruling, the fact that the publication of the report took place not only "in a newspaper of great national reach such as El Mundo", but was also printed in the Sunday edition, "published across a full page, in full color", and "was distributed worldwide" on the Internet.

The plaintiff, who maintained a romantic relationship with Morate-García between 2006 and 2008, "was threatened and illegally detained" by him, and had requested €75,000 compensation.

The initial formal notification to the newspaper requesting a correction was sent on February 26, 2016, just five days after the publication of the report. El Mundo published a brief summary of the ruling last Sunday, November 10, 2019, three years later, which stated the date of publication of the ruling as July 18, 2019.

Since publishing that brief summary 10 days ago, as part of the court order, neither El Mundo, Mr. Negre or Unidad Editorial have made any further comments on the matter.

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