Times of Malta’s decision to fire Ivan Camilleri based on ‘bias’, lack of proof

Veteran journalist wins €172,000 in damages


Aqra bil-Malti.

A Tribunal has ruled The Times of Malta must pay €171,569 to journalist Ivan Camilleri for wrongful dismission in a process adopted by the company that Chair Joe Gerada said was “absurd”.

The Tribunal concluded that the Board of Directors of Allied Newspapers dismissed Camilleri hastily, breaching all the provisions of its collective agreement and without any tangible proof against its senior journalist.

“The employee had to prove his innocence instead of the organisation coming up with the necessary evidence to dismiss him,” the Tribunal ruled, pointing out a number of instances when The Times of Malta breached employment rules in a “biased” process.

“There was a flagrant breach of the collective agreement that created an unequal situation that put the employee in an impossible situation to defend himself and have the chance of a fair hearing.”

Camilleri’s dismissal was based on two allegations: The alleged information leak to Yorgen Fenech on his arrest and the ‘shoplifting’ from Valyou supermarket. The Tribunal considered each allegation and said the organisation had failed to prove its allegations and rushed to dismiss Camilleri.

Camilleri was called to a meeting in which Managing Director Michel Rizzo, Board Chair Paul Mercieca, Board member Helga Ellul and Editor-in-Chief Herman Grech were present. The Tribunal noted that the employee was called in without knowing the agenda and presented with a memo/letter.

Despite denying the accusations, Camilleri was told to leave the room and fired within the hour. The Chair slammed The Times of Malta’s management, board, and chief editor for what seemed to be a predetermined decision that even excluded the Human Resources Manager from the process — a move the Tribunal found “strange.”

While the organisation has stated management is separate from editorial, a line the organisation repeated when three of its managing directors and its former financial controller were accused of money laundering, the Tribunal noted how Managing Director Michel Rizzo mixed the roles and acted like a journalist, relying on a source that only the Editor-in-Chief knew – Rizzo did not even know who it was.

The Tribunal also noted that even though Rizzo said that, at the time, the newsroom was “on fire”, it was no excuse to ignore the rights given to employees in the collective agreement.

The Tribunal states that Rizzo’s role should have been to “put out the fire” until proper procedures were followed. Management had other alternatives, such as suspending Camilleri until they gathered the evidence to back their allegations.

The Yorgen Fenech ‘leak’

The case dates back to 2019 when Camilleri was accused by his Editor-in-Chief of tipping off the alleged mastermind of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Yorgen Fenech, when he was trying to leave the island.

Inspector Keith Arnaud’s testimony revealed that they had information that the tip-off came from “Ivan tat-Times.”

There were two Ivans in the newsroom at the time – Ivan Camilleri and Ivan Martin. The Tribunal noted the company treated the two differently, again attributing it to Herman Grech’s bias.

“The Tribunal notes the different investigation methods adopted by the Editor-in-Chief regarding Ivan Martin and Ivan Camilleri, who share the same name. Grech interviewed Ivan Martin to try to establish the facts. He did not do the same with Ivan Camilleri as the Chief Editor seems to have had different priorities.”

The ruling also states that Inspector Arnaud could only confirm that Ivan Martin’s last SMS to Yorgen Fenech was on 9 July 2019, and Ivan Camilleri’s was on 19 November 2019. It was also noted that these were not the only two journalists in contact with Yorgen Fenech (journalists need to talk to everyone to get all sides of the story).

During the Tribunal sittings, Grech did not name who had told him about the alleged leak, saying only that it was a source. Even the Managing Director Michel Rizzo and the company’s chairman Paul Mercieca, relied on Grech’s information, without question, admitting that they did not know to whom Grech was referring.

The Chair of the Tribunal said that while journalists had the right to protect their sources in a news report, this was an internal investigation: “The evidence in a disciplinary process must be examined. Otherwise, all journalists will be made vulnerable if an allegation by an unknown source that is not examined can lead to dismissal.”

“It is clear that the company was in a hurry to terminate Camilleri’s job on the claim it wanted to save its reputation,” the Tribunal concluded.

The supermarket

The Tribunal concluded that any investigation by The Times of Malta in this regard – again Managing Director Michel Rizzo and Editor-in-Chief Herman Grech – “departed from the presumption of guilt and rendered it worthless”.

The allegation was that Camilleri was caught shoplifting from Valyou supermarket. It emerged from a story published by Malta Today in 2019.

The supermarket’s owner, Ray Mintoff, testified, saying that he, as well as his partner Philip Borg, were put under pressure by Rizzo and Grech to come up with evidence so “they could fire him (Camilleri).” Mintoff insisted he had no proof.

Mintoff testified that when he saw the CCTV footage, he saw Camilleri leaving the cashier with some products at the back of the trolley that had not been placed on the cashier’s desk for payment, but “as soon as his attention was drawn to this, he immediately paid and apologised”.

Camilleri’s attitude

The Tribunal also commented on Camilleri’s arrogance at his place of work. This was raised at the hearing and not in the letter given to Camilleri upon his dismissal.

The Chair said that although this was no reason for dismissal, the attitude should stop when it impinges on other employees who did not need to take his derogatory remarks.

The Tribunal reduced his compensation by €56,000 for that reason and ordered The Times of Malta to pay him €171,569.

In a report on the case yesterday, The Times of Malta said it stood by its decision and would appeal.

Read the full decision here: Decizjoni 3000 – 3851JG


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Jools Seizure
Jools Seizure
23 days ago

Naturally, The Times has every right to appeal but if this decision is confirmed at Appeals stage, those responsible should resign immediately. After all, it would make no sense for, say, the editor-in- chief to suggest bias in public officials when his own supposedly centrist publication deals with its internal affairs in such an impulsive, amateurish and frankly biased manner.

22 days ago
Reply to  Jools Seizure

Resign? The editor-in-chief? Ma tarax! He’s God’s gift to journalism!

Diana Cacciottolo
Diana Cacciottolo
23 days ago

I think it is important to add the detail from the police testimony that Ivan Martin was in contact with Yorgen Fenech in July, while Ivan Camilleri was in contact with Fenech on November 19.

22 days ago

So the TOM reach an out of court settlement with that crook Adrian Hillman who crippled them instead of suing the living daylights out of him. Whilst Ivan Camilleri had to sue them to receive compensation. Quite a different approach. Why did they not go after Adrian Hillman and sue him for the damages caused by his dealings with Keith Schembri and Pierre Sladden? You have to wonder in seeing the different approach they took with Ivan Camilleri whether they paid Adrian Hillman off because they had to keep some other secrets covered.

Austin Sammut
Austin Sammut
22 days ago
Reply to  Tony

And why did they never publish the internal inquiry. Talking of transparency. It would have removed any doubts there may be.

Austin Sammut
Austin Sammut
22 days ago

In a nutshell the Tribunal found no proof of where the tip off came from or of shop lifting?

Ray Deguara
Ray Deguara
22 days ago

Seems The Times has A serious problem regarding bias and researching the proper facts according to the tribunal.

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