Industry Trends

“Malicious Montage”: French TV Watchdog Condemns Unethical Reporting in Chetcuti Cauchi Case

Last month, we reported how a French court found two executives of national broadcaster M6 guilty of criminal defamation for having deliberately misquoted Maltese lawyer Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti so as to make him appear to be an influence peddler in connection with Malta’s citizenship by investment program. We now learn that French media watchdog Arrêt Sur Images (ASI) has publicly denounced M6 for its behavior, calling the report on Malta a “malicious montage”.

Established by journalist Daniel Schneidermann, ASI routinely exposes biases, inaccuracies, or deceptive representations in media reporting. The behavior of the TV reporters in the Chetcuti Cauchi case, said the watchdog earlier this month.

The correct explanations provided by Dr Chetcuti are “in vain, as the journalists nevertheless imply the opposite in voice-over in the broadcast program”, said media analyst Loris Guémart in the latest edition of Proxy, a media scrutiny program produced by ASI. The original footage, obtained by the court after the defendants had attempted to prevent its admissibility, clearly showed the reporters had put together a “malicious montage,” said Guémart.

To put matters simply, the French reporters deliberately made up the statements they attributed to Chetcuti. While investment migration as a sector is no stranger to media misrepresentations, these are typically characterized by the use of plausible deniability and other suggestive verbiage, rather than outright lies. The Chetcuti incident stands out for the use of deliberately deceptive editing in an attempt to tarnish the name of a highly reputable market actor, attributing to him words he never uttered.

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The incident has no parallel in investment migration history, and both the court’s ruling and the Watchdog’s condemnation serve as important victories for a sector that is frequently unfairly maligned, and a warning to bad-faith journalists.

In an interview with IMI in 2020, internationally recognized immigration and tax lawyer David Lesperance expressed his admiration for the manner in which Chetcuti handled the matter:

“I hugely respect how he tackled the tyranny and power of the press,” said Lesperance. “The video that was later uncovered showed him acting like a true professional. He laid out the issues involved in the case being presented to him and clearly communicated the limits to the program and the work which he would undertake. In short, he acted like a fiduciary and a professional and not an ‘I’ll do anything to close the deal’ salesperson.

Chetcuti Cauchi Case Timeline

  • September 2019 – French TV program airs snippets of meeting with Chetcuti without audio, with the commentator’s voice-over added in French and insinuating a wrongful portrayal of the Maltese citizenship program by Chetcuti Cauchi.
  • November 2019 – IIP Regulator publishes ORiip Report on Review of IIP Applications, giving a clean bill of health to Chetcuti Cauchi’s citizenship work and finding the IIP Agency’s conduct impartial.
  • December 2019 – French court fines media executives in obstruction of justice for resisting a court order to hand over the original footage as central evidence of their claims. The court eventually obtains the footage.
  • January 2020 – Chetcuti files a complaint, leading to the CEO of the French media group’s placing under Magisterial Inquiry for criminal defamation. Footage published by Chetcuti Cauchi turns out to be a veritable training manual in best practices, prudent avisory, and the selectiveness of the Malta citizenship program. Chetcuti seen emphatically contradicting suggestions by the French journalist impersonating a potential client.
  • June 2021 – French TV station CEO is arraigned before the Criminal Court of Paris.
  • October 2023 – Court of Criminal Appeal of Paris overrules the defense plea of inadmissibility of the footage and, applying the footage, convicts two media executives of criminal defamation in bad faith, imposing fines and damages in favor of Chetcuti and his firm.

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