Journalist’s social media post was a justified ‘response to an attack’, appeals court rules

The Court of Appeal today threw out an appeal by MaltaToday co-owner Saviour Balzan against a previous ruling in favour of former Times of Malta journalist Ivan Camilleri following the latter’s Facebook comments in response to articles published in MaltaToday in October 2019.

The appeals court, presided over by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, confirmed the original verdict’s ruling that Camilleri’s comments had been a justified “response to an attack” and were therefore not libellous.

Camilleri’s Facebook post categorically refuted allegations reported by Balzan that accused him of shoplifting from a Naxxar supermarket. Camilleri had insisted at the time that “there was no shoplifting except in Mr Balzan’s fertile imagination”.

In his appeal, Balzan raised four objections to the original Court of Magistrates’ decision, all of which were shot down by the court.

The court declared that Camilleri’s response to the articles published by Balzan had been “in good faith” and constituted a justified “response to an attack”. All expenses for the case are to be paid by Balzan.

The judgement follows court decisions on three other cases involving Camilleri last week, all of which related to articles published by either Illum or MaltaToday, both of which are co-owned by Balzan.

Last week MaltaToday reported on two cases Camilleri lost after suing Balzan and Illum reporter Yendrick Cioffi for libel following their respective MaltaToday and Illum articles reporting on Camilleri’s dismissal from The Times of Malta.

In those 2019 articles, MaltaToday and Illum had reported that Camilleri was dismissed following allegations that Camilleri had tipped off businessman Yorgen Fenech the night before his arrest at Portomaso in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

In these two cases, the court declared that regardless of the veracity or not of such allegations, it was in the public interest to report that Camilleri was dismissed from the newspaper, at least in part, because of them.

MaltaToday failed to report on a third case that Camilleri won against Balzan in a libel suit concerning a third follow-up article penned by Balzan. The court declared that the article was defamatory and ordered Balzan to pay Camilleri €2,500 in damages and pay court expenses.

The article implied that Camilleri received payments or favours from businessmen in exchange for writing articles favourable to them. The court considered Balzan’s follow-up article as mere opinion rather than impartial fact.

“The court asserts, as it has previously done, that freedom of expression should not be interpreted as protecting those who publish without proof in a medium that is accessible indefinitely, posing claims that affect a journalist’s reputation indefinitely, without verification,” Magistrate Rachel Montebello said in her ruling.

She added on Balzan: “The publisher’s actions lacked integrity and were in breach of journalist ethics, and this was done against another individual who practices the same profession, without the author providing any proof to verify his claims”.

In its judgement, the court declared that Balzan could not publish the defamatory claims unless proof or a basis of fact were provided and that third-party hearsay did not constitute such proof.


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20 days ago

Paraphrasing Abbie Hoffman – propaganda is not about truth, but as the propagandist wishes the truth might be

20 days ago

Balzan and his porc-opinions.

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