Hunters Farrugia, Perici Calascione lose libel case against online commenter

Attempt to stifle freedom of expression by hunting duo who claim 'they represent 80% of all hunters', is thrown out by court

Left: Lino Farrugia, with Joe Perici Calascione
Left: Lino Farrugia, with Joe Perici Calascione

Magistrate has thrown out a criminal libel case filed by hunters’ lobby FKNK against a man who commented on an online news article, after he held that the comments had made no reference to the hunters’ federation.

The FKNK had filed a criminal complaint against Emanuel Curmi in September 2011, claiming that his comment under the article “Hunters vow action over government policy,” published on the Times’ website was defamatory.

The article had reported that the federation had decided that it would “take a different course of action against attempts by the government to gradually eradicate spring hunting” and quoted the FKNK as saying the government was being “led by the nose by BirdLife Malta.”

MORE: FKNK’s chief executive Lino Farrugia suing MaltaToday cartoonist for depicting him with his pants down while hunting.

Curmi had posted a comment beneath the article, saying “now that is going to be a difficult one. The hunting lobby has resorted to just about everything. Intimidation, arsonry [sic], vandalism, lobbying, threatening, beatings etc the list is long, to say nothing about the blatant breaking of hunting and trapping law every single day. Thinking something new and original is really going to take a lot of imagination. The Open Season hasn’t even started and it is shooting galore already in case nobody noticed.”

The commenter had been arrested on the complaint of the federation and had admitted to posting the comment, saying that it was based on his personal experience and what he would read in the news media. He claimed to have been intimidated by hunters whilst birdwatching, adding that there was ample proof on YouTube.

The complainants, Joe Perici Calascione and Lino Farrugia, respectively president and now CEO of the FKNK, had contended that they represented 80% of Maltese hunters. As the accused had referred to the “hunting lobby”, and the article was about a planned action by the federation, they felt the comments were directed against them and were defamatory. They admitted, however that the comment may have referred to isolated incidents involving hunters.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale disagreed however, saying that the “hunting lobby” referred to in the comment was not solely comprised of the federation, but included other pro-hunting organisations and entities. The court was convinced that the accused did not intend to directly attack the FKNK, but was referring to all law-breaking hunters and trappers, adding that it was clear from the responses to the comment that the public had understood it to have been directed towards “hunters and trappers” and had not been understood as referring to the FKNK.