Maltese newspaper L-Orizzont was cleared of libel after a politician sued over an editorial.
“As in all libel cases won, this court’s decision gives us pleasure and the energy for more hard work. But above it all – since it was against an influential party leader – it carries much more weight,” Josef Caruana, the editor of L-Orizzont told iMediaEthics. Caruana pointed out that the newspaper also successfully defended itself earlier this year against a libel lawsuit from the former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi over an editorial.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil sued over the March 2014 editorial, “Trading in influence,” which pointed out that “a company Dr Busuttil was involved in until 2013, Europa Research and Consultancy Services Ltd, had been awarded direct orders by previous Nationalist administrations amounting to over €1 million,” the Times of Malta reported.
L-Orrizont’s editorial called on Busuttil to fully disclose his ties to business when they overlapped with his political role. Busuttil took that as believing the newspaper was accusing him of breaking the law.
The judge, Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, agreed with L-Orrizont‘s editor that the newspaper’s editorial didn’t cross any lines and that it was fair comment. The editorial “could not fail to be seen as fair comment,” the court found, according to Malta Today.
Caruana explained to iMediaEthics the details of the ruling:
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“In his observation and eventual decision, Magistrate Dr Francesco Depasquale concluded that our comments were based on true facts which are also in the public domain, our questions were justified and that our critique was no insult to the party leader or maliciously intended to hurt him in any way.“Dr Depasquale also specified that in the high position occupied by Dr Busuttil, he is also liable to a much more high level of critique as accepted in any democracy.”
The newspaper’s editorial only called for Busuttil to respond to the implication of the uncontested facts, as opposed to making any actual allegations.
“The plaintiff, instead of answering to the allegations made against him and making public clarifications, as was asked of him, he instead resorted to legal action,” Depasquale said, according to the Times of Malta.
Caruana explained to iMediaEthics that its editorial contained a “legitimate question and plea for him to come clean regarding alleged abuse.”
“Our insistence, featured in the main editorial opinion, resulted exactly after it was revealed by our Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that nonetheless Dr Busuttil’s company (Europa Services & Consultancy Limited), which did also specialise in European funding, obtained more than a million euros in consultancies from his own government during the last legislature, where he even held the position of Deputy Leader,” Caruana told iMediaEthics.
iMediaEthics has written to Busuttil.