Minister cleared of spreading false news

Energy Minister Joe Mizzi has been cleared of criminal charges related to spreading false news and alarming the public from the Opposition benches in 2007

Minister for Energy and Water Management Joe Mizzi has been cleared of criminal charges relating to spreading false news and alarming the public from the Opposition benches in 2007.
The case, which dates back to 2007 and was transferred to Magistrate Joe Mifsud in October this year, was filed upon a criminal complaint made by Architect Michael Falzon, at the time Chairman of the Water Services Corporation, against then opposition spokesperson for Infrastructure Joe Mizzi, over an article in the Times of Malta titled “Water Crises”.

The editor of the Times, Raymond Bugeja, was later non-suited after publishing a retraction.
In the article, Mizzi had claimed that ‘the looming water crisis is a priority we have to address for a healthy and sustainable future.’ After analysing the water problem in Malta, he had criticised the government who he said had ignored the problem for two decades and who “now seems to be desperately looking for non-existent quick solutions”.
The court observed that Mizzi was charged under the Criminal Code and not under the Press Act, and reminded that legal action about reports of court cases is precluded if the reports are “fair accounts of proceedings.” This did not mean that the protection did not leave casualties, said the magistrate.

“Every day the Maltese media reports a considerable number of individuals accused of crimes. When, years later, some of them are cleared it is not always reported, with the same prominence of the original charges.”

Court privilege should not be abused to transmit false and defamatory allegations, warned the court. “Reports must be in good faith and not maliciously implanted in complicity with whoever is giving false testimony to deceive the reader.”
Citizens enjoy the protection of the European court of Human Rights and the fact that decisions can be scrutinised at European level adds a burden of responsibility on Maltese judiciary said the court, as it examined European statute and case law on freedom of expression.

Amongst the judgments it cited, was a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which held that “freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion.

It is also a condition sine qua non for the development of political parties, trade union, scientific and cultural societies and, in general, those who wish to influence the public. It represents, in short, the means that enable the community, when exercising its opinions, to be sufficiently informed. Consequently, it can be said that a society that is not well informed is not a society that is truly free.”

However, the court also noted that no evidence had been brought to show that the article had caused tumult or had contributed to a violent incident.

For this reason, the court ruled that the article in question could not amount to “false news spread with the specific intention of alarming the public.”

Mizzi was declared innocent of the charges.


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