What Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando did in his private life was not in the public interest provided that it did not affect his public role, a court ruled on Tuesday in case concerning photos published by Daphne Caruana Galizia.

An appeals court confirmed a decision by the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal, that news reports purely intended to satisfy the curiosity of people who thirsted for details of a person’s private life did not qualify as matters of public interest and could not be afforded protection under a claim of freedom of expression.

Dr Pullicino Orlando, a former Nationalist MP who currently chairs the Malta Council of Science and Technology, had filed the case against Ms Caruana Galizia, claiming that five images about his private life which the late journalist had published on her blog Running Commentary breached data protection laws.

The images were included in six blog posts Ms Caruana Galizia uploaded between 2010 and 2016 when Dr Pullicino Orlando had been dining out at a St Paul’s Bay restaurant, signing a deed at a notarial office, accompanying his girlfriend on a Valentine’s trip to Sicily, travelling with the same girlfriend to London and Sicily and also attending a local song contest.

Watch: 'Very few mourn her', Pullicino Orlando says of Caruana Galizia

Dr Pullicino Orlando’s original complaint had been rejected by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner, who had concluded that he was “a public person and the reported activities did not happen in a secluded place which is exclusively available to the data subject.”

Publication impacted 'right to privacy'

Furthermore, “the blog posts did not reveal or expose any pieces of personal data which the general public could have never become aware of,” the Commissioner had declared, while acknowledging that the publications could “affect the data subject’s right to privacy”.

The former MP had appealed to the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal, which overturned the earlier decision and sent the case back to the Commissioner, who must now act on that decision.

The tribunal had concluded that “the information published by the blogger was a mere curiosity and nothing more,” pointing out that what Dr Pullicino Orlando did in his private life was not in the public interest, since it did not impinge upon his public role.

All the activities captured in the photos were not public information but mere curiosities, and reporting them was not safeguarded under the Data Protection Act nor the Press Act.

Reporting the activities could also not be safeguarded under the right to freedom of expression, the court, presided over by Mr Justice Anthony Ellul, declared, adding that a balance had to be struck between this right and the right to privacy.

Citing from a judgment by the ECHR in Falzon vs Malta, it was stated that “A fundamental distinction needs to be made between reporting details of the private life of an individual and reporting facts capable of contributing to a debate in a democratic society – relating to politicians in the exercise of their official functions.”

In this case, the blog posts amounted to mere gossip of interest to those who had nothing better to do and who thirsted for news about the private affairs of others, the Court said, concluding “without hesitation” that such news were not matters of public interest.

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