Defamation faced amendments in 2018 with the introduction of Chapter 579 of the Laws of Malta; The Media and Defamation Act (hereinafter the “Act”).

Defamation also known as Malafama in Maltese jargon is the communication of a statement that harms or is likely to harm a person’s repute to a serious degree; defamation can be slanderous and libellous.

Slander refers to the harm a person suffers by virtue of spoken statements with malice. Libel on the other hand, refers to the harm a person suffers by virtue of publication. Additionally, this Act also provides for trade libel and defamation of a deceased person.

Civil proceedings for defamation against publications causing harm to a person’s repute, depending on circumstances, may be instituted against each of the following people: (i) author; (ii) editor; and (iii) publisher. In instances whereby the person aggrieved is a public figure, the matter is considered to be of general public interest, or the persons although not a public figure is involved in matters of public interests, defamation can be counteracted if:

  • The defendant is able to prove that the statements under complaint are substantially true; or
  • The defendant is able to convince the Courts that the statements under complaint are ones of honest opinion.

These defences may also be used in instances where the Court is satisfied that the used of these defences is necessary in the proper administration of justice.

The single publication rule provides that when subsequent statements are made to the public, but the substantive material is the same, they shall be regarded as a single publication. However, the Courts are able to consider the defendant’s multiple actions when considering the value of damages. In libel and slander proceedings instituted under this Act, the Courts are able to award moral damages.

Publication of statements in a scientific or academic journal, if the statutory conditions are met, are privileged, and are provided additional safeguards. Moreover, even a fair and accurate copy of extract, summary, or assessment benefit from such safeguards. Nonetheless, if the peer-reviewed statements in scientific or academic journals are proved to be malicious, the statements do not possess the privileged safeguards. Additionally, the Act provides ex lege privileged publications.

A preliminary hearing is held following the filing of a sworn reply, whereby the Court shall decide whether the parties are able to resolve the matter through mediation or agreement. In the scenario where the matter is sent to mediation or agreement, the Court shall give the parties a specific period to which the matter has to be resolved. Alternatively, the Court shall proceed with the hearing of the cause where it deems resolution by mediation or agreement not viable.

The Court, upon a decision in favour of the plaintiff, is able to order the operator or editor of the website to remove the defamatory statement from that website or order to stop distribution, selling, or exhibiting of material containing the defamatory statement.

Additionally, any person who has been misrepresented, has been the victim of such defamation, or has had his private life intruded by virtue of the publication shall have the right to reply. The right to reply is a demand which can be made by the aggrieved to publish a statement of contradiction or explanation free of charge, barring some exceptions.

An action under this Act, unless subject to an express provision on prescription, shall be barred by prescription after the lapse of one year from the date of publication.

For more information or assistance please contact Dr Robert Tufigno and Dr Delilah Vella.  

Disclaimer This article is not intended to impart legal advice and readers are asked to seek verification of statements made before acting on them.
Skip to content