Back

Media law changed after columnist fined for criticising politician

Falzon v. Malta |2018

Media law changed after columnist fined for criticising politician

When my case was referred to the European Court of Human Rights, I sensed that it was a very good opportunity to test the validity of how freedom of expression is treated in Malta. Eventually, I won. I can say that I have been battling against this for some time.

Michael Falzon © MaltaToday

Background 

Michael Falzon is a former Maltese politician. Since leaving politics, he has written a weekly opinion column for the newspaper MaltaToday. 

In 2007 Michael wrote an article in which he criticised the behaviour of a member of parliament. The MP started libel proceedings against him.

A court ordered Michael to pay the MP €2,500 in damages. His subsequent appeals before the Maltese courts were rejected. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the decisions of the Maltese courts had been “very narrow in scope” and the courts had not struck a fair balance when they upheld the MP’s right to reputation without explaining why this outweighed Michael’s right to free speech. 

Michael had not acted in bad faith by raising legitimate questions, in the public interest, about the behaviour of a politician. 

Follow-up 

In 2018 the Government of Malta introduced a new Act on Media and Defamation, which updated the law on libel and slander with the main aim of strengthening the right to free speech. This included introducing the notion of “serious harm” to the definition of defamation, along with its decriminalisation.