The Court on Monday threw out a legal challenge mounted by UHM Voice of the Workers Secretary General Josef Vella against The Shift and ruled The Shift’s refusal to publish a right of reply sent in by Vella was “justified under the circumstances.”
Vella had taken exception to The Shift’s report on his appointment as a director of the government-owned Malta Air Travel Company Ltd, the parent company of the one-aircraft airline Malta MedAir.
In an article published last April titled ‘Union leader appointed director of government company sees no conflict of interest’, The Shift reported how the UHM chief had been handpicked by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana in February 2022 to represent the government on the board of directors of Malta Air Travel, Malta MedAir’s parent company.
Vella filed the case over The Shift’s refusal to print a virtual essay he presented as a right of reply in its entirety when his comments had already been reported in the article.
Magistrate Rachel Montebello on Monday ruled that Vella’s right of reply had fallen well outside the parameters established by law and found The Shift had been justified in having not carried it.
Vella had peppered his reply to The Shift, which had already asked him questions about the appointment and published most of his replies in the original article, with descriptors such as “misleading” and “false”, which the Court found to have been inappropriate.
The contents of Vella’s requested right of reply, Magistrate Montebello ruled, are not in compliance with the law and, as such, The Shift was under no obligation to carry it.
“Since the plaintiff insisted on publishing a response with content that evidently goes beyond that allowed by law, the Court considers that the right of reply requested by the plaintiff does not have to be published by the defendant.”
Beyond other considerations, the Court found that the use of the word “misleading” in the right of reply “goes beyond a statement of contradiction or explanation of facts”.
By invoking the word ‘misleading’, the court found Vella sought to undermine The Shift by attributing further motives to the article. It also, according to the Court, intended to mislead readers, something that the law expressly forbids in a right of reply.
“It [Vella’s right of reply] is nothing but the submission of the plaintiff’s different opinion on the facts reported, and, above all, it is also potentially defamatory to the respondent,” the Court ruled.
Vella’s reply had also been littered with expressions such as “Contrary to the impression being given in the story”, “The Shift knows perfectly well…” and “The story tries to give the impression that UHM is somehow involved in Air Malta…”.
Such comments, the Court ruled, express the claimant’s opinion of what was reported and “undoubtedly exceed the strict limits of the form of the right of reply as intended” by the law.
“The reply is no longer restricted to a statement of contradiction or factual corrections…and constitutes an attack on the publisher’s intentions and therefore does not deserve the protection granted by law.”
The Court ordered Vella to foot all legal costs.
Andrew Borg Cardona, Matthew Cutajar and Eve Borg Costanzi from BCGL Advocates defended The Shift.