Maltese editor Josef Caruana was found guilty of libel for a 2012 article claiming two other journalists were making millions and sending the money abroad, according to the Times of Malta.
Caruana edits Maltese-language General Workers Union daily newspaper l-Orizzont. The article, “Is-Saltna tal-Gideb (the reign of lies)?”, claimed Anton Attard and Natalino Fenech “pocketed millions in consultancies and had bank accounts” abroad, according to the Malta Independent. The article does not appear to still be online.
One of the journalists, Fenech, told iMediaEthics by e-mail that winning the case helps him feel “at least vindicated that the Court recognized that what was said is untrue and helps wash away some of the mud that would have been hurled at you.”
The article also claimed that the former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi used Attard, Fenech and three others at the station as a “Gang of Five” aiding the government.
“Terms such as serial liars were also used in the article and the article likened them to [Joseph] Goebbels, who was Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda,” according to the Malta Independent.
Caruana argued that the article was fair comment. He also claimed that he wasn’t criticizing the journalists but rather “the former administration,” Malta Today reported.
However, the judge, Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, decided that “no reader could objectively analyse the allegations implied in the article,” according to Malta Today.
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Caruana must pay €5,000 to Attard and Fenech, which is about half of the maximum penalty.
Fenech provided iMediaEthics with the following statement regarding the ruling:
“Articles such as the one I felt libelled about were very common and typical in section of the local media. They make a statement, which is not based on any fact, and then build a whole line of arguments about it as if it was true, leading readers to believe what the author wants them to believe.
“It is often very difficult to sue for libel because authors are careful about how they write to cover their backs, but people still understand the pieces in the way they want them to. In fact in this case, the editor argued in court that he was not referring to us and that he had a duty to expose what we were doing.
“I have a few pending libel cases about other newspapers in the same vein. The amount of money that is awarded under Maltese law is not much compared to the harm that these articles do to your reputation. Libel proceedings in Malta can also be lengthy because of delaying tactics by those accused and their lawyers. But when you win the case, you feel at least vindicated that the Court recognized that what was said is untrue and helps wash away some of the mud that would have been hurled at you.”
iMediaEthics has written to l’Orrizont for more information concerning the ruling and the article in question. We will update with any response.