Konrad Mizzi awarded €2,000 in libel damages over changed article title

The former Malta Independent journalist has been ordered to pay €2,000 in damages to the minister over changes to an article made by an editor

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi
Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi

A former journalist with the Malta Independent has been condemned to pay €2,000 in damages to Minister Konrad Mizzi over changes to an article made by an editor.

Helena Grech had authored an article, originally titled “Co-founder of Mossack Fonseca says company did not know Konrad Mizzi was politician.” The article opened with a statement saying “Ramon Fonseca Mora, co-founder of Mosack Fonseca, said that at the time of providing Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi with his company’s services, he did not know that Dr. Mizzi was a politician.”

However, when her article was submitted for editing, an editor had subsequently changed both the title as well as the content of the article and published it in her name. This is a common practice in journalism.

The article was published in April 2016, under the title “Konrad Mizzi did not divulge he was a politician -cofounder of Mossack Fonseca.” The opening paragraph had also been changed to read that Konrad Mizzi “had not divulged that he was a politician when he solicited the services of Panamanian corporate service providers Mossack Fonseca.”

But it also emerged that from documentation provided to the court that Mizzi had indicated that he was a Politically Exposed Person and that this fact had been overlooked by Mossack Fonseca.

“It emerges…that both the title and the content of the article, where they alleged that the plaintiff failed to say he was a politician and which had been changed by the editors…were all incorrect and misleading to the ordinary reader,” said the court.

Grech had based her defence around the fact that the statements constituted fair comment, but the court, after examining European jurisprudence on the matter, observed that while journalistic freedom allowed an element of exaggeration, a balance had to be struck between freedom of expression and the right to the protection of one’s reputation. The former right was subject to the more important practice of verification of facts. If there is insufficient evidence, the journalist should hold back from publication, said the court, quoting its judgment in Alan Camilleri vs Saviour Balzan.

The court stressed that Grech had faithfully reported the facts in both her article and its original title. It had been the editor who had changed the title “solely to damage and defame the applicant,” said the court, “and this court cannot fail to condemn this.”

Mizzi had failed to send a right of reply, observed the court. This would have provided him with an immediate and more effective solution. This failure was a ground for the court to mitigate damages, it said.  

Declaring the title and the article libellous the magistrate ordered the defendant to pay €2,000 in damages to the minister.

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