Court will not force Caruana Galizia to reveal source in Mizzi libel

Court rests on Council of Europe definition for journalist as ‘natural person regularly or professionally engaged in collection and dissemination of information to the public’

Blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia
Blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia

A magistrate’s court has today turned down requests by Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi, his wife Sai Mizzi Liang and his communications coordinator, to force Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia to identify her sources, declaring that she was a journalist at law.

Mizzi and his wife had sued Caruana Galizia for libel over an article published on her blog in 2014, in which she had alleged that Mizzi had been conducting an extra-marital affair with his communications coordinator, Lindsey Gambin.

Caruana Galizia had alleged that the minister had been seen dating Gambin and that the Mizzis’ marriage had broken down in the context of the alleged affair.

A similar request in the separate libel suit, filed by Gambin, was also rejected today.

In the decree, Magistrate Franceso Depasquale said that the Press Act did not speak of “journalists” but of “authors”, In the absence of a definition under Maltese law, the court referred to that adopted by the European Council’s Committee of Ministers which defined the term “journalist” as “any natural or legal person who is regularly or professionally engaged in the collection and dissemination of information to the public via any means of mass communication.”

By law, journalists cannot be compelled to reveal their sources, unless it is established to the satisfaction of the court, that the revelation is “required in the interests of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, protection from criminality or disorder, or the interests of justice.”

The law itself warns that this protection, however, is not to be interpreted as exempting the author, publisher or editor from proving the truth of the allegations they publish.

The plaintiffs had also argued that the blog was not covered by the Press Act, which only speaks of “newspapers or broadcasts”.

However, the court noted that another provision in that act defines “printed matter” as “writing printed in typographical characters...or other means whereby words or visual images may be heard, perceived or reproduced”.

By this definition, the court held, Caruana Galizia’s blog did in fact fall under the remit of the Press Act. “There is no reason for which the electronic means used by the defendant should not be not considered as a newspaper,” held the court.

The issue of whether or not Caruana Galizia could be described as a journalist at law is central to the two libel cases and while appearing deceptively simple, has profound repercussions on press freedoms and the rights of the individual.

In upholding Caruana Galizia’s right to refuse to reveal the identities of her sources, the court made reference to judgements by the European Court of Human Rights, including Voskuil vs the Netherlands in which the protection of sources was described as “one of the basic conditions for press freedom” – “Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. As a result the vital public watchdog role of the press may be undermined and the ability of the of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected.”