Il-Mu­ment or­dered to pay Franco Mer­cieca €5,000 in li­bel dam­ages

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

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.

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