The reaction of many good people to the judgement that held that It-Torċa had not libelled Pia Zammit was to be expected. Likewise, I stand with Pia, it need hardly be said.
I was going to add ‘and some not so good ones’ or use ‘assorted luvvies’ instead of ‘many good people’, but hey, I said to myself, why be your usual cynical self? Then I answered myself and, as is my wont, undermined myself immediately.
The thing is, simply showing solidarity with Pia and making the obvious point that actors can’t be tarred with the brush that caked their characters with shit, actually misses the point. The case made by her against It-Torċa was that they defamed her by the picture and the article, and the decision of the court was that under the Media and Defamation Act, there was no such defamation.
Basically, the court found that given the circumstances, no serious harm to Pia’s reputation was caused by It-Torċa and, this being an essential component of defamation under the new act, the case was dismissed.
For quite a good and longer summary of the legalities, I refer you to Tim Diacono’s piece on Lovin’Malta, if I might be permitted to refer to other media outlets. Whether the court was right or wrong is a matter for the Court of Appeal, if Pia chooses to go there, and while I have my views, which will probably become evident if you read on, it is the views of that court which would be relevant.
This concept of ‘serious harm’ was introduced after pressure on Owen Bonnici back in the day, pressure that was not enough to induce that craven specimen to introduce more important anti-SLAPP legislation. In the manner of Trumpians and other lowlifes everywhere, the ‘new’ law was heralded as a new dawn for media freedom.
Permit me a hollow laugh, at this point, with a nod towards the old saw “careful what you wish for”. I’ll be making it clear why below.
In theory, there is much to be said for requiring this notion of ‘serious harm’ to be given weight. Too many people, mainly politicians jealous of their pristine reputations (another hollow laugh, from off-stage this time) had become too accustomed to reaching for their briefs to fire off multiple suits at their interlocutors and this was creating quite a chilling effect on the Fourth Estate.
And that’s leaving aside the penchant for SLAPP suits on the part of many thugs in suits, aided and abetted by Owen Bonnici and his political masters.
The idea, then, was to dial-back from what was becoming an environment where you report about, make insinuations concerning or insult a sacred cow at your peril. The idea was to protect the media from the predations of the rampaging herd of the great and the (not so) good, which is an idea always to be celebrated.
At the risk of being called odious by comparison, the ‘no serious’ harm defence was raised in the cases of the Hon. R. Cutajar had brought against a couple of citizens who are not established media houses.
The Hon. Lady had been called names of a (much) less than complimentary nature and the point was raised that no-one could seriously believe that these gross insults were such as to cause serious harm. They were just that, insults, not assertions that the Hon. Lady really was what she said the insults said she was.
The manner in which said Hon. Lady had used social media was also raised for context purposes, to show that she herself had not been backward in coming forward with pretty stark characterisations of others.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the defence was pretty much laughed out of court, and ‘serious harm to reputation’ was found, even if the low level of damages awarded did allow the court to make its own, subtle, point. The purveyor of the insults also found himself in receipt of quite a few buckets of odium for daring to insult a woman “that way”, also from quite a few people who are sticking up (and quite rightly) for Pia now.
Fast forward a few months and the same court now finds that no serious harm was caused to a private citizen, a civil society activist to boot, when a newspaper that is commonly perceived as supportive of the regime (to put it mildly) used a picture taken entirely out of context to portray her as somehow being a Nazi sympathiser.
Was my comparison so odious, now that you think about it?
Under the old Press Act, as Michael Frendo and others had found out to their cost, calling someone ‘Fascist’ or ‘Communist’ was to dice with the libel courts, where the tendency was for the establishment to find solace. Today, things are different, apparently. Or not.
The thing is, the court was not – and could not be – asked whether It-Torċa was being the very manifestation of slimy hypocrisy by attacking a critic of the object of its fawning abject affections.
The court was not – and could not be – asked to protect Pia Zammit from bullying by allies of the gang against whom she was active.
The court was not – and could not be – asked to decide between It-Torċa and Pia Zammit, which should be seen as the soul of integrity and righteousness.
The court was – and could only be – asked whether It-Torċa had defamed Pia by its behaviour, reminiscent as it was (and remains) of the bottom-feeding reptiles who use any means to intimidate the critics of the regime. The court decided that it had not done so. It-Torċa’s fellow travellers, Super One, lost no time in crowing in support of its cause, obviously.
This does not mean that It-Torċa is not guilty of slimy hypocrisy.
This does not mean that it did not act as a bully in support of its clay-footed heroes.
This does not mean that Pia is anything but a person of integrity miles on the right side of history and that It-Torċa are anything but insects by comparison.
Ironically, their own lawyer brought all of this into sharp focus when he told the court that “silly things about matters of great importance are insensitive”. There are lawyers, it must be said, who would say such things with a straight face and It-Torċa’s brief seems to be one such. There are courts who fall for this sort of barrack-room lawyering and it seems that this court is one such.
Let’s not beat about the bush: saying that Pia Zammit was being insensitive by taking the piss out of the Nazis and the scum who used to – and for that matter still do – support them is to demonstrate a frame of mind that is either naive to the point of imbecility or cynical and manipulative to the point of malignancy.
I imagine you’ve cottoned on to where my opinion lies on all of the above.
Just to add a little soupçon of shitty irony to this chamber-pot of horrors, an amaris in fundo, as it were, I’m told that the swastika that Pia was wearing in the photo was not even the one the Nazis used: it was reversed, the Hindu version.
It-Torċa can’t even get their bullying right, it seems.