With just over 30,000 inhabitants Gibraltar has a very small population (even though increasing at an alarming rate since 2011) and the community tends to be quite vocal about most issues. With the growing use of social media many have taken to the internet to exercise their democratic right to express themselves freely. It probably does not help either that, rightly or wrongly (and I cast no aspersions) the Editors of the two main local papers are perceived to have close links to the Government. The New Editor of Gibraltar Chronicle for example was the Best Man at the Chief Ministers Wedding and the Editor of the Panorama is the father of Minister Garcia.
A few days ago the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Mr Fabian Picardo once again saw fit to threaten members of the general public with legal action over Facebook comments. This time the apparently defamatory comments had been taken from an individual’s personal Facebook page, which only his friends have access to.
Incidents such as these in my opinion give the terminology ‘Big Brother is watching’ a whole new meaning. Ordinary citizens being targeted and singled out in a democratic society by the powers to be sounds like something out of Steven Speilberg movie but unfortunately for some in Gibraltar this is very much a reality. That this same Government sees fit to spend over HALF A MILLION pounds per annum on what it calls “Media Monitoring” also seems to add to the sense of what appears to be justified paranoia that some residents on the historic rock seem to have.
One would assume that the leader of a Nation and his legal team would have better things to do though than scour Facebook for comments from disgruntled locals. For example the potential exit of the UK from the European Union could cause all sorts of problems for the British Overseas Territory, maybe the Chief Minister and his legal team should concentrate on such matters instead? Imagine if David Cameron or Mariano Rajoy, respective leaders of the UK and Spain also threatened everyone who defamed them on social media with legal action? Imagine if President Obama did that? They would probably run out of paper and time!
It is also worth noting that in America a public figure such as a politician cannot base a lawsuit on incorrect harmful statements unless there is proof that the writer or publisher acted with actual malice. The burden of proof in defamation actions is always higher in the case of a public figure. In Gibraltar even though the law is different politicians are still expected to have a thick skin.
Mr Picardo is a powerful individual with a deep pocket, who has easy access to Gibraltar’s top lawyers and thus to me such actions appear disproportionate. In stark contrast Gibraltar’s Leader of The Opposition Mr Daniel Feetham who was very recently and publicly defamed by a member of the public on a social media forum, rises above such things. Instead of summoning his legal team when notified of the aforementioned comments Mr Feetham merely responded accordingly to the accusations and left it at that.
Personally I think it is an absolute disgrace that Mr Gingell a single father of two has been threatened by the leader of a Nation. Incidents such as these make me realise why most people don’t want to take on Mr Picardo (bar Mr Feetham) or say anything against him or his Government. They probably don’t want to get branded as "nasty", served with a legal writ or worse. That is why people like Mr Gingell are important, even if his comments might have been technically defamatory.
On a final note I would just like to add that one can only hope that the Gibraltar Government will be as generous with Mr Gingell (a single father of 2 with a mediocre income) as they were with the wealthy Marrache brothers when it comes to legal aid.
Mr Picardo’s socialist Government recently changed long standing local legislation to allow the three brothers alone to apply for over 7 MILLION POUNDS in legal aid at the tax payer’s expense.