TV presenter loses libel claim over report on his reaction to Caruana Galizia murder

Public persons must be aware of the consequences of all they say on platforms like Facebook, court says as TV presenter Jean Claude Micallef loses libel claim against Manuel Delia

Jean Claude Micallef
Jean Claude Micallef

Labour Party candidate and TV presenter Jean Claude Micallef has lost his claim for libel damages against Manuel Delia over a blog post in which Delia flagged Micallef’s Facebook comments on the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as hate speech.

Micallef had taken to Facebook, two weeks after the journalist’s murder, to write “If you live your life vilifying people, you will die vilified. Respect is won during your lifetime, not after your death".

The post was liked 276 times and shared 68. He had also claimed to have been the subject of vilification by Caruana Galizia’s writings, “at the behest of a particular clique".

In a blog post, titled “When hypocrisy is transparent” Delia had slammed Micallef’s initial reaction of regret at the murder of the slain journalist only to argue why he despised the victim, two weeks later.

Delia had also pointed out that Micallef had switched his party loyalties several times, to suit his needs.

Micallef had sued for libel, claiming that the post was not directed at Caruana Galizia and that Delia was insinuating “unpleasant things” about him.

Delia had told the court that had the man’s comments been made at any point before 15 October, when Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb, it would have been simply one of many random quotes people post online, “like those who publish a statement by Confucius and make it their own.”              

“But the context of the time of publication was inevitable for me and all who read it that it was like a direct reference to Caruana Galizia and a comment entirely inconsistent with the sentiments he expressed immediately after her death.”

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale observed that Delia’s defence was one of fair comment. After examining the legal and jurisprudential basis of the defence of fair comment, the court noted that it had been held in the past that politicians are subject to wider scrutiny and comment and that the court should not in any way hinder it.                

It noted that the defendant was correct in reaching his conclusions, because the perception given to readers at the time of publication might not have been that intended by the writer as a public person and that therefore the blog post constituted fair comment.

The court observed that politicians and public persons should be an example to citizens and their followers on Facebook and should recognise the consequences of all they say.

They should understand that the way they behave in public can easily encourage others to imitate them and take it as acceptable behaviour, said the magistrate, adding that the obligation was on politicians and public persons to ensure that they are a positive influence on society.