My statement sent to the media in response to that released by Silvio Debono’s outfit

Published: March 11, 2017 at 11:24am

Yesterday, Silvio Debono and his outfit filed 19 libel suits against me, all about the same subject, taking advantage of the fact that the law allows them to sue for each comment, article or blog-post even if the subject matter and the author are the same.

As we have seen from his involvement with both political parties and several politicians who he pays for services rendered, Debono has a lot of money to throw at his objective of silencing criticism of his choices, behaviour and the exceptional treatment he has got from this government, which has given him – and for a risible sum – a large piece of public land in a prime area, which he will now use for speculation on blocks of flats.

Because he cannot buy my silence by paying me for my “professional services”, as he has done with others, Debono has taken another tack: using that money to hit me with a record-breaking number of libel suits. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but this is not the issue here. The cases will drag through the courts, it will cost me around 8,000 euros merely to file my responses, and anybody else would have been intimidated into submission. But that is not going to work where I am concerned.

The law does not protect journalists in this situation because you do not need grounds to sue. You only need grounds to win. In the process, there is no prima facie assessment of whether there are grounds or not. This means that an aggressor who feels himself threatened and wishes to intimidate journalists and critics – a politician like Christian Cardona, for example, or a business operator like Silvio Debono – can file multiple libel suits as an extreme form of harassment in and of itself.

They do not do this to protect their reputation, because their reputation is actually far more badly damaged by such grave acts of aggression against those who hold them to scrutiny and criticise their behaviour. They do it to silence criticism through fear and intimidation. This is consonant with the fact that we in Malta are now living in a culture of fear.

Silvio Debono’s outfit has said in a statement that it did not take the decision “lightly or rashly”, and that they would have preferred not to take it at all. I think that, on the contrary, they would love to do far more than sue for libel, and that their problem is not moral prevarication over whether they should file 19 libel suits or not, but finding a lawyer who would carry out their perverse brief.

The same statement also says that “for weeks on end” I have “attacked, slandered and lied” about them. This is patently untrue. The matter blew up as a public-interest issue only a week ago, and it is the past week’s blog-posts that have really bothered them because they are so close to the bone. Debono is working hard to damage his own reputation in the run-up to the bond issue on which his project depends, and he doesn’t need my help in doing it. Also, as Debono and his people will find when the matter finally goes to court, opinions based on facts are not lies and nor are they libel.

“She writes as if the laws which exist in any European democracy to protect citizens from such abominations do not apply to her. Clearly, she thinks that we should not enjoy the benefit of these laws which protect us and our rights,” Debono’s statement said.

My response to this is that in any other European democracy it would not have been possible for Silvio Debono to do what he has done over several years, and it would certainly not have been possible for him to acquire such a large tract of prime-area public land, removing an important public college for the purpose, through his close connections with the party in government, and then also buy the silence of the deputy Opposition leader by paying him for his professional services on the same deal. European democracies protect ordinary citizens and journalists from the depredations of individuals like Debono and the politicians who protect and serve him.

Debono says that if the courts award him damages, he will give the money to charity. He needn’t wait for that. He should give a great deal of money to charity right now, instead of giving it to political parties and spending it on a Maserati car and an over-sized yacht.