One TV has called me many things it would consider insulting. It has called me an extremist, a Nationalist, and a campaigner ‘against Malta’. It has reported as a negative that for some time I lived in Zimbabwe. It marks periodically, nearly thirteen years after the fact, the bus reform with which my name was associated.
As a court decided today I am a public figure and I must be prepared to tolerate criticism, even unfair criticism. Occupational hazard.
But the court today, presided by Magistrate Rachel Montebello, also agreed that at least one time One TV crossed the line. On their website they got an image of me facing the camera at a protest Repubblika called in Valletta on 13 December 2019. One TV was not happy about the protest because it was another in a series that brought about the end of Joseph Muscat’s political career.
They turned their unhappiness into the complete falsehood that I and other protesters were so mad with fury that we had targeted for insults and violent behaviour children with disabilities who happened to be in Valletta for an event recognising their participation in special Olympics.
When I testified in this case on why I felt this article about me was different from the any other weekday name-calling I am subjected to on the Labour Party’s TV station, I said this piece, more than others, demonised me.
For only a demon would express their political opinions by showering children, disabled or otherwise, with insults and violence.
When One TV ask their viewers to believe I and other protesters are capable of behaving violently towards children they do that in order to deny us the credentials we need to legitimately criticise the Labour Party and demand Joseph Muscat resigns. No one who is insane enough to insult children is capable of having sane reasons to express a political opinion.
I am a public person and must expect criticism, even unfair. But, and from here I quote the court’s decision of today, I am “a public person who is a persistent critic of the government and a foremost member of civil society. In the court’s view, when insensitive and inappropriate behaviour such as publicly insulting persons with disabilities is attributed to a public person, there is a likelihood of serious harm to that person’s reputation. The court believes seriousness, sensitivity and integrity are key to (Manuel Delia’s) reputation as a prominent civil society activist, a blogger, and government critic because these roles require him to persuade and convince other people that his opinions are reliable as are his criticisms of public persons.”
The court here was examining whether One TV’s report harmed my reputation because that is a test of whether libel has occurred. And the court found that indeed my reputation was harmed by One TV.
But this observation by the court is even more important because it doesn’t merely register the fact that telling the public that I am capable of insulting children harms my reputation. It also implicitly documents why One TV lied about me the way they did.
The court didn’t need to determine the motivations of One TV. Indeed, defamation would have happened even if this was all an accident. So, the following conclusion is my own, not the court’s. One TV lied about me and said I was perfectly happy to insult children because such a lie would deny me of the only tool I have: my credibility, my claim to basic decency and integrity, the only resources in my possession when I criticise the government and dare to hope to be believed.
You see, under defamation laws I can only sue One TV using the tools available to anyone wanting to sue me, as if One TV was just any other media organisation. But it isn’t. It’s the Labour Party’s TV station and media group. And the Labour Party is the ruling party in government, the same government I criticise.
I won a point today that I have been libelled but there’s a much more important point that needs to be made: the Labour government is perfectly happy to slander its critics to strip them of their credibility. It’s not about libel then, is it? It’s about the subversion of democracy itself.