A disgruntled Vittoriosa resident who vented his frustration in a Facebook post targeting the Transport Minister, has been slapped with damages to the tune of €7,000 after a civil court declared the message to have been defamatory.
Lawrence Grech, 58, from Vittoriosa, had suffered inconvenience due to roadworks in the street where he resided. The works had been ongoing for 18 months when in December 2015, in view of the forthcoming statal visit by Queen Elizabeth, new works were undertaken in an adjacent road.
Mr Grech was irked by the fact that a team of 12 men was assigned to work round the clock on the adjacent road so as to complete the necessary resurfacing in minimal time.
On December 9, 2015, he vented his frustration in a strongly-worded post, peppered with foul language, where he blamed Minister Joe Mizzi, responsible for roadworks. He also accused the minister of being corrupt and hating the people of Vittoriosa.
Two days later, the minister instituted a case for libel against Mr Grech, claiming that the post was defamatory in his regard.
He realised his mistake and had removed the offensive post. However, this had been shared with his 700 Facebook friends
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, observed that when the case was filed, Mr Grech had realised his mistake and had removed the offensive post. However, this had been shared with his 700 Facebook friends.
The court observed that Mr Grech had failed to offer a public apology to the offended minister to try to limit the harm done.
It was further noted that the offensive remarks, which could never be deemed to constitute fair comment, had been repeated three times.
The post, which fell within the definition of a publication in terms of the Press Act, constituted "a blatant abuse of social media".
Such "frivolous and capricious" comments often cause great harm which may be irremediable and which may cause upheaval in the life of the victim, the court remarked.
Mr Grech had chosen to insult the minister for whom he had allegedly voted in the general elections simply because he felt aggrieved by the fact that the infrastructural works in his street had lingered on unnecessarily, the magistrate said.
The court declared this to be "cowardly and malicious" post against the personal integrity of Minister Mizzi and rendered the Facebook post defamatory. It would not tolerate whoever 'hid' behind a computer to insult and attack others, saying whatever came to his mind and expect to get off scot free. This was an abuse of social media.
The court ordered Mr Grech to pay €7,000 by way of damages to Mr Mizzi declaring that it "strongly condemned such behaviour".
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us