The strange case of Edward Keninwenimo Etete against MediaToday

Court throws out would-be libel case because it was time barred, filed in front of the wrong court and against the wrong entity

Judge throws out case against MediaToday
Judge throws out case against MediaToday

An unusual court case filed against MaltaToday’s parent company MediaToday has been won after a judge ruled that the applicant had failed to use the most obvious remedy and that the case was time-barred.

Edward Keninwenimo Etete had been named in a 2016 article titled “Son of controversial Nigerian Minister used Maltese intermediary to set up BVI company,” which alleged that Keninwenimo Etete was the son of Dan Etete, a minister in Nigeria.

Keninwenimo Etete denied this, saying he was the son of Edward Gunn Etete.

The defendant company had raised the plea of prescription, as the case had been filed over a year from its publication. It also argued that it was not the correct defendant. The case should have been filed against the author or editor of the story in question.

The story had been pulled from the MaltaToday online portal once the error had been pointed out to it.

MediaToday’s lawyer Andrew Saliba had argued that the case was essentially a libel claim which fell within the civil law competence of the Court of Magistrates under the Media and Defamation Act. As that law rendered it time-barred, upholding the claim would create a way of circumventing the law, it was argued.

Lawyer William Cuschieri, for Keninwenimo Etete, on the other hand, claimed that he was simply requesting a declaration and that this was not a libel suit.

Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff noted that the article had been published over three years ago and the only traces of it would be found in the national archives as the online article had been erased.

Therefore, the principal aim of the proceedings was to obtain a declaration from the court to the effect that the publication had been a “manifest error.”

But the court said that the plaintiff had another remedy at his disposal, which he had not used – that of requesting a right of reply, which reply would have been given the same prominence as the offending article.

It was “the most obvious and simple remedy available to the plaintiff, once that he is not demanding damages,” said the judge.

The court said the action for a declaration to correct published facts could only be given in the context of a libel case, which the plaintiff could not institute as more than a year had passed since its publication.

The court declared that the action should have been made before the court of magistrates under the Media and Defamation Act and therefore declined to hear the case, upholding the media house’s defence.

More in Court & Police