A Magistrates’ Court threw out libel claims by former ABBA leader against the ADPD party over social media comments and publications triggered by a children’s event caught in the crossfire between opposing political views. 

Ivan Grech Mintoff sued Sandra Gauci, Mina Tolu and Ralph Cassar as representatives of ADPD, over Facebook comments whereby they criticised the presence of Grech Mintoff and other ABBA members at a theatrical performance for children. 

The play on ‘gender fluidity’ organized as part of the ŻiguŻajg Festival entertained “the concept that gender is flexible and adaptable, not selected for you but by you.” 

ABBA representatives turned up at the performance, attended by an audience of 8 to 10-year-olds, filming the event and the creative workshop that followed to prove that such an event ran counter to ABBA’s political views. 

The respondents, as ADPD representatives, subsequently commented about the incident on social media and issued a public statement claiming that Grech Mintoff’s actions amounted to harassment and intimidation of both children and their parents.

ADPD’s statement was reported by various online news portals. 

Grech Mintoff filed civil proceedings arguing that those publications were defamatory in his regard, both personally and in his then-capacity as leader of ABBA. 

When delivering judgment the court, presided over by Magistrate Rachel Montebello, observed that the theme of the children’s play strongly clashed with ABBA’s conservative Christian ideology which upheld the traditional family concept. 

ABBA was against a gender diversity culture among children, viewing that as abuse and organized sexual indoctrination.

ADPD, on the other hand, promoted equality and a pluralistic society where respect for gender supremacy was supreme. 

In this case, Grech Mintoff sued in respect of all publications including the news reports that were secondary and faithful reproductions of the statements originally published by ADPD and its representatives. 

As far as the libel was filed by Grech Mintoff in his former role as party leader, the court observed that ABBA was a non-profit organization and thus did not fall within the definition of an entity for defamation laws.

 Saying that these publications triggered “lots and lots of media backlash” in respect of ABBA was “immaterial” when proving the alleged damage to the organization’s reputation since there could be no impact on the party’s finances. 

There was nothing stopping individual party members from suing for damages to their personal reputation, observed the court. 

As for Grech Mintoff’s personal claims, the court said that none of the publications contained allegations that amounted to defamation. 

At no point did they attack Grech Mintoff’s moral character and integrity, nor could they be deemed as defamatory in the minds of reasonable persons of average intelligence. 

Those comments amounted to political criticism but not personal attacks causing serious damage to the applicant’s reputation.

The ŻiguŻajg  event was caught in the crossfire between opposing political views.

There was no doubt that there were diametrically opposed views on certain issues in Maltese society. Gender diversity and transgenderism were among those issues. 

The court believed that there was a “substantial segment” of society that was still undecided on such sensitive and controversial matters. Thus it would not be fair to consider one view or another as the view of the ordinary reasonable person.

A “fundamental” requisite for a libel suit to succeed was to prove serious or potential damage. 

It was not enough to prove that the words were defamatory but the applicant also had to prove the negative impact caused by such publications. 

When testifying, Grech Mintoff mentioned “absolutely nothing” about any such impact on his reputation, save for saying that after the ADPD’s statements were shared by the media, ABBA had to organize several meetings to discuss the episode. 

When all was considered, the applicant’s claims could not be upheld. 

Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia, Emma Portelli Bonnici and Desiree’ Attard assisted the respondents. 

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