Former editor sues for libel over Manuel Delia allegation he took cash from Schembri-Hillman

Steve Mallia wrote a piece about his concern on the state of journalism: in the social media barrage that ensued, Manuel Delia suggested he benefited from underhand payments

Manuel Delia, seen here in a House committee hearing on Enemalta oil procurement, was a former aide to Austin Gatt before becoming a frontline activist with Occupy Justice
Manuel Delia, seen here in a House committee hearing on Enemalta oil procurement, was a former aide to Austin Gatt before becoming a frontline activist with Occupy Justice

The former editor of the Sunday Times will sue Occupy Justice activist Manuel Delia for libel, after the latter suggested whether he could have benefitted from illicit payments from either Keith Schembri or former Times director Adrian Hillman.

Steve Mallia was on the receiving end of social media abuse after penning an opinion last Sunday that took to task activists who were upending the notion of freedom of expression as a way of advancing allegations for partisan or political reasons.

Delia responded with a blog attacking Mallia for his editorship of the Sunday Times at the time when Allied Newspapers director Adrian Hillman had set up an offshore company to receive payments from other offshore companies owned by Keith Schembri, then as director of paper merchants Kasco and the supplier of newsprint to Allied.  

“Contrary to his malicious allegations, in my position as editor I never possessed any knowledge of the alleged actions attributed to the ex-managing director of Allied Newspapers… and particularly since I had absolutely no involvement in the commercial operations of the company, I was not in a position to know – let alone gain any financial benefit myself from them, which is perhaps the most repulsive fiction put forward by Manuel Delia.”

Mallia said Hillman “never, ever” dictated an editorial decision during his tenure. “I took those decisions and assume sole responsibility for them. Along with his other allegations, this is a grotesque invention by Manuel Delia that will not remain unchallenged.”

Mallia posted a brief reply on his Facebook wall after Delia’s blog, saying his unsubstantiated allegations were lies and that journalists and bloggers were responsible for the content they publish.

“During the course of the week, which allowed for a period of reflection, he did not retract a word, let alone apologise. On the contrary, he – and other uninformed commenters – increased the dose.

“Neither he, nor anyone else for that matter, has the right to unjustly tarnish another’s reputation and I will leave no stone unturned to safeguard mine. Nor will I cower to bullying tactics aimed at discouraging me from expressing an opinion.”

Mallia, a veteran journalist, wrote in the Sunday Times on 21 October of his concern at the direction a certain type of journalism had taken in Malta particularly by people who have been in the political field – a reference to Manuel Delia, a former aide to Nationalist minister Austin Gatt who has now thrust himself at the forefront of the activists’ group keeping the legacy of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia alive.

“One of the main points I wished to convey is that certain standards are non-negotiable: opinion should never be passed off as fact and freedom of expression is not an absolute right – it comes with responsibilities. ‘No one,’ I wrote, should ever be free to fabricate or distort facts,” Mallia said.

“Whatever the merits of my arguments – and people have always been welcome to oppose them – what I put forward was my point of view.

“It is deeply saddening and profoundly ironic that barely 24 hours after this piece appeared, I was subjected to the most hideous character assassination by Manuel Delia – who made a series of totally unfounded allegations in my regard in a blog post, shared on social media, titled ‘Journalism most foul, he said’.”

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