Il-Mument ordered to pay Franco Mercieca €5,000 in libel damages
The newspaper il-Mument has been ordered to pay MP Franco Mercieca a total of €5,000 in damages after Magistrate Francesco Depasquale found it guilty of libel.
The story which sparked off court proceedings was published on 15 December three years ago. The article dealt with the fact that although Dr Mercieca was a Parliamentary Secretary at the time, he still advertised his private practice offering his services as an eye doctor.
In the story, it was said that photos taken throughout November of the year in question, show that he was practising at a private clinic in Rabat, Gozo. The article maintained that Dr Mercieca was breaking the code of ethics.
As a result of this, Dr Mercieca filed for libel proceedings against the editor of il-Mument, Roderick Agius.
Joseph Grech, owner of the Joseph Dispensing Opticians clinic took the witness stand and said that Dr Mercieca has been seeing patients at the clinic since 2004. He added that, like in other clinics, he had displayed a sign showing the various professionals at his clinics and the services they offer. Among the names of the professionals displayed, Mr Grech said Dr Mercieca’s name was present.
He added that Dr Mercieca had offered his services at the clinic in question up until 15 days prior to the 2013 general election. Following this, Dr Mercieca never offered his services there again.
Mr Grech said that although Dr Mercieca stopped offering his services there, he did not see to it to have his name removed from the sign. He added however that whenever patients would call to book an appointment with Dr Mercieca, he would inform them that the eye doctor no longer worked there.
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, presiding over the case, took into consideration the fact that the author of the article never published the questions he said he sent to Dr Mercieca regarding the story. The courts held that the author never made any effort to verify the conclusions drawn in the article, at the very least with the owner of the clinic in question.
Magistrate Depasquale noted how when a person holds the position of parliamentary secretary, the last thing on their mind would be to ensure the removal of their name on a sign displayed outside a clinic or his own office. He added that Dr Mercieca had no responsibility to remove his name from the sign displayed outside of the clinic, and that if the author had attempted to verify the facts he would have come to different conclusions.
For these reasons, the courts found the newspaper in question guilty of libel damages and ordered it to pay the complainant a total of €5,000.