When 10 days ago I read this article by Edward Zammit Lewis about how “we don’t SLAPP the media”, I wanted to burst. I knew then what his good mate Yorgen Fenech had been plotting to do to me. If a £70 million defamation suit filed by the Tumas Group against me in the UK is not SLAPP, I don’t know what is.
Is Edward Zammit Lewis his brother’s keeper? Is he responsible for what his friend plotted to wipe me off the scene? Not directly.
But Edward Zammit Lewis is not just any old buddy of Yorgen Fenech’s. He’s not just another one of the way too many politicians who faithfully and systemically kept up a WhatsApp affair with him. He’s also the justice minister who can actually do something about SLAPPs, like, for example, legislate against them.
I want to clear some misconceptions that appear on comments boards everywhere from people whose favourite hobby appears to be to minimise and trivialise anything they come across.
I don’t know how to say this in simpler terms. No one can ignore a lawsuit against their name in a UK court, especially one of that size. Of course, I materially will never have anything that could pay any portion of a fine like that. But it also means I could never hold a credit card, pass the most basic due diligence test for a mortgage, or have anyone set up a small business with me. That’s not to mention the personal harm to my reputation having been convicted of defamation irrespective of the fact that part of the reason for that would be that I never had the money to hire lawyers to even put in a defence.
There’s a reason big corporates resort to SLAPP suits against journalists and activists. And that reason is neither the protection of their reputation nor a genuine attempt to recover losses. They resort to SLAPP suits for reasons spoken in so many words by Yorgen Fenech in his exchange with his publicist: “to pick a victim”.
This is the financial equivalent of a pummelling by thugs in a dark alley. This is the representation of that normally hollow threat in Maltese: “intik xebgħa li ma terġax tqum minnha”.
You need to understand a couple of important details from Yorgen Fenech’s discussion with his publicist.
First, he says that his unnamed uncle (presumably, Ray Fenech who still runs the family empire and who still ensure Yorgen Fenech’s family misses nothing from the profits and gains of their business) was even keener than he had been “to pick a victim” to protect the value of the Tumas Group.
Understanding therefore what these people were thinking to do to me in 2018, is also understanding what they might decide to do to me this morning. Ray Fenech’s circumstances have not changed. He’s in no prison. His job is still to protect the wealth his family has accumulated through legitimate and not so legitimate means. And my job is still to annoy the hell out of him as I insist that someone, somewhere faces consequences rather than profits for acquiring the Electrogas contract with bribery and corruption, not to mention the profits from a casino business neck-deep in mafia shit.
While Ray Fenech’s job remains Ray Fenech’s job and my job remains my job, a catastrophic SLAPP suit can still happen to me at any time.
Second, when Yorgen Fenech briefed his publicist about his lawyers’ plans for me in the UK, there was little suggestion that it would be Yorgen Fenech that would file a suit against me on a personal basis in the UK. That would be bringing the man too close to his crime. It would be as if he took the bother to stake out a journalist’s car, waddle over fields and put a bomb under the driver’s seat himself. He’d never do that.
Instead, the lawsuit would be filed by my other alleged victim: the Tumas Group, the business empire with its corporate structures, its liability safeguards for its owners, its lawyers, bankers, resources, and assets. Understand that this isn’t excessively bold me taking on the Tumas Group. This would be the Tumas Group taking me on. A shriller, deadlier version of an a-ha record from 1985.
Even though he spent every minute about the same amount of money I earned every year, Yorgen Fenech would never bloody himself in a man to man fight with me. Nor would “Uncle Ray”. That would not be “picking a victim”. They would throw the Tumas Group corporate at me. They would not pick on the Times of Malta because that is backed by a Foundation. They would not sue Lovin Malta because they didn’t want to be seen bullying a small business. But crushing an individual is ok.
It is ok because Edward Zammit Lewis, his predecessor in his job Owen Bonnici, and their government refused and continue to refuse to legislate to protect public interest journalism like mine. Because our government, in weighing in the balance of policy-making the interests of a Tumas Group on the one hand and little old me on the other, know who butters their bread.
I challenged Edward Zammit Lewis on Twitter yesterday to tell me how many friendly (and frankly rather embarrassing) messages he estimates having exchanged with Yorgen Fenech around the time that Yorgen Fenech was exploiting the legal lacunae Edward Zammit Lewis left for him in order to silence me for good. I’m not surprised he hasn’t answered.
Hint: a lot.
“We don’t SLAPP the media,” Edward Zammit Lewis wrote on Times of Malta 10 days ago. Perhaps you don’t, you pompous git. You just step back to let the corporates that line your pockets do it for you.
If I hear Edward Zammit Lewis say one more time that “as a politician, I have always spoken up in favour of journalism and what it represents,” I swear I am going to roll up a copy of Yorgen Fenech’s email to his publicist plotting a SLAPP suit that Edward Zammit Lewis enabled him to do and stuff it down the justice minister’s brassiere.