Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi has been awarded €1,000 in libel damages over allegations made on Facebook that the politician used to meet “a working girl at Portomaso.”
Azzopardi had filed a defamation suit following the Facebook post uploaded by Vincent Borg, known as Censu l-Iswed, last August at a time when rival PN factions regularly posted comments in the run-up to the party leadership race.
That post consisted of a set of 13 questions, one of which addressed to “the Honourable Jason Azzopardi,” implying that the politician, branded as one of the “rebel” anti-Delia group, used to meet a prostitute at the St Julian’s hotel.
Borg later edited the post, removing the reference to Azzopardi and he claimed that he was asking those questions “in the name of the members of PN.”
When testifying in court in February, the activist insisted that as a PN member at the time, he felt “entitled” to ask such questions, pointing out that other MPs had offered answers.
Azzopardi had not replied but had sued for libel instead.
When delivering judgment on Monday, Magistrate Rachel Montebello declared that it was “not at all convinced” by Borg’s argument that the reference to “working girl” was meant as “a woman working at the hotel.”
The respondent’s testimony lacked credibility and was intended to “fool the court,” said Magistrate Montebello, adding that the court “gravely detested such behaviour.”
An ordinary reader on social media would not likely delve into the linguistic definition of a word but would grasp its meaning within a particular context, noted the court.
And in this case, the clear message intended to be conveyed by Borg was that Azzopardi had met with a prostitute.
It was obvious that the post had been intended to spark “political controversy” by making allegations against those who, in Borg’s own words wanted “to destroy Delia.”
If proved right, those allegations would evidently place such “rebel” MPs in an uncomfortable position, observed the court.
Putting the allegations in question form rendered them more insidious and increased the “defamatory sting,” said the court, noting further that the concluding remark “Just to remind you,” thrown in by Borg for added emphasis, was intended to convey a clear and direct message.
Within a liberal society like modern Maltese society, in spite of the current debate to decriminalize prostitution, this activity is still looked upon as illegal and degrading, went on the court.
Moreover, society still looks down upon men who seek the services of prostitutes, with a sense of loathing, particularly nowadays when there is a greater awareness about the exploitation of vulnerable women.
Therefore, associating a person with such an activity is bound to negatively impinge upon the person’s reputation by attributing low moral standards.
In this case, the allegation was not linked to Azzopardi’s political or professional role and thus the question put by Borg did not contribute “absolutely anything” to a debate of general public interest.
The imputation could lower the public’s trust in Azzopardi and discredit him in his public function, said the court, adding that the respondent had “absolutely failed to prove that his imputation was somehow founded in truth.”
The court added that it was evident that the question had not been put in good faith and attributing the post to the crisis within the PN at the tim, could not serve in any way to make the question a legitimate one.
Borg had not put forward any proof to support his allegation and had not been willing to reach an amicable settlement nor had he tendered an apology to Azzopardi who was thus awarded €1000 in damages for the defamatory post.
Lawyers Joseph Zammit Maempel and Kris Busietta assisted Azzopardi.
In a Facebook post after the judgement, Azzopardi said he would be donating the proceeds to charity.
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