FKNK acquitted in libel case filed by Birdlife

The court held that FKNK president Joe Perici Calascione was not the correct defendant in this case, in which Birdlife requested damages for a 2009 press release issued by the hunting federation

A libel suit filed by Birdlife against FKNK President Joe Perici Calascione has been dismissed by a court, after it held that the hunting federation had a right to complain about an anti-hunting bias in a Birdlife booklet handed out to schoolchildren.

Birdlife President Joseph Mangion and Secretary Desiree Falzon had requested damages for a 2009 press release issued by the FKNK, titled “Birdlife Malta infiltrate Education Department.”

The statement had been issued after the Education Services Directorate sent out a circular in May 2009, advertising vacancies for liaison officers between Birdlife and secondary schools. The officers would give talks to schoolchildren and encourage bird watching.

“Birdlife is renowned for its anti-hunting lobby and more so for it gradual brain-washing of children through the supply of misinterpreted and misrepresented material facts, depriving them of a fair and unbiased platform about what the environment and conservation should all be about,” read the press release.

The FKNK had subsequently come to an agreement with the Ministry for Education whereby it would supply it with a “Teacher's Pack” “explaining the conservation efforts of hunters and trappers in the natural environment.”

Mangion and Falzon had sued for libel, arguing that Birdlife had not “infiltrated “ the education department, but had only presented a project after representatives of the two held a meeting.

Likewise, the environmentalists felt themselves defamed by the allegation that they were promoting an “anti-hunting message.” Their fight was with illegal hunting and they had been encouraging environmental conservation through the distribution of the booklet titled “One World,” argued Birdlife. The brainwashing allegation was also denied.

Perici Calascione insisted that he had written the press release in the name of the FKNK and that the case should not have been filed against him in his personal quality. Additionally, the defendant argued that what had been written constituted 'fair comment.'

In the sentence, Magistrate Depasquale expressed his disappointment at the fact that the two leading environmental organisations were unable to reconcile their differences and come to an out-of-court settlement.

The court had upheld the defence's argument that Perici Calascione was not the correct defendant in this case. Regarding the issue of defamation, magistrate Depasquale noted that although the booklet provided a great deal of interesting and relevant information about the environment and its protection, the only mention it had made of hunting was in the context of “massacres” and illegal hunting. It did not contemplate the possibility of legal hunting.

As a corollary, the court reasoned that the FKNK was “substantially correct” in saying that the booklet gave a negative spin to hunting, said the court. “Unfortunately, the Birdlife booklet failed to reach a balance.”