Caruana Galizia loses defamation suit against Manuel Cuschieri

Appeals Court confirms judgement in defamation case lodged by former Labour president Manuel Cuschieri

Daphne Caruana Galizia (centre)
Daphne Caruana Galizia (centre)

The court of appeal upheld a judgment condemning Malta Independent columnist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia to pay €950 in damages to former Labour president and One Radio host Manuel Cuschieri, for a 1999 article in which she had accused him, amongst other things, of having a seditious agenda and of “deliberately watering the seeds of ignorance, hatred and suspicion, bringing them to full flowering”

The article in question had described Cuschieri as “Mr Evil”, who followed a “hate creed”, “sowed the seeds of anti-Semitism” and possessing of a “seditious agenda,” representations which Cuschieri had described as character assassination.

The columnist had submitted that her article constituted fair comment, based and built on facts which were substantially true and of interest to the public.

The first court had found for Cuschieri, with Judge J.R. Micallef dismissing Caruana Galizia’s defence as incorrect in fact and at law and injurious to Cuschieri’s reputation. That court had ordered her to pay €950 in damages plus legal expenses to Cuschieri.

Caruana Galizia subsequently appealed the judgment, arguing that she had every right to comment on the man’s deportment during his programmes and pass a value judgment on him, including occasions where these value judgments shock, offend and confuse those who read them.

However the Court of Appeal in its superior jurisdiction agreed with that of first instance, pointing out that Caruana Galizia had not used one of the many legitimate methods available to her, instead having chosen the path of insult and character assassination by attributing criminal behaviour to Cuschieri.

The appellate court held that there was nothing ambivalent in the decree of the first court, in which it correctly applied the relevant legal principles – that for the defence of fair comment to stand, the comments must be based on facts, which the article in question was not.

In addition to fair comment, the columnist had quoted the European Court of Human Rights as saying that it was not enough that one form an opinion of the behaviour of a public person, but one must also be allowed to express the opinion so formed. “Otherwise, instead of a democracy, one would find a dictatorship where the manifestation of an opinion leads to harsh punishment.”

To Caruana Galizia’s defence that her writings constituted comment and not an attribution of facts, the Court of Appeal pointed out that it was the attribution of racial hatred and seditious agenda which were defamatory, not the columnist’s comment or opinion.

However, noting that witnesses had testified that Cuschieri would encourage, if not hatred then contempt, for particular persons, making misleading and untruthful statements during his broadcasts, it held that a careful reading of the article showed that it had not alleged that Cuschieri was inciting racial hatred or anti-semitism, but rather, was likening it to the style used, in different times and countries, by anti-Semites.

On the other hand, with regard to Caruana Galizia’s allegations that Cuschieri was following a seditious agenda, the court held that this did not constitute a value judgment based on fact, but was simply applying a false attribution of criminal acts to him.

“It may be the case that when the defendant used the word ‘seditious’... she did not understand the technical and legal meaning, although this is the same as their lexical meaning,” said the court, pointing out that her testimony showed that she did not mean to use the term to mean inciting revolt.

“In spite of this... we cannot assume that whoever reads the article will understand the word as meaning anything but its proper meaning.”

The court dismissed Caruana Galizia’s appeal, confirmed the judgment of the first court and ordered her to bear the costs of the lawsuit.