The host of former radio show Tagħna Lkoll has been ordered to pay €3,000 in libel damages to a now-retired member of the police force in a judgment deploring the “poor and unethical” quality of the show, possibly reflecting “the unhappy state of public media in general”.
Patrick Cassar, a former police sergeant stationed at the RIU with 23 years of experience and a shooting instructor specially trained in VIP protection, had filed libel proceedings after David Thake read an email in June 2016 in the course of his daily programme which used to be aired on Radio 101.
The contents of that email, allegedly sent by a follower of the programme, had lamented certain irregularities within the police force and claimed that the applicant, identified by his rank and number, was a "taghna lkoll" member who lacked knowledge but considered himself as good as some Navy Seal or a Special Forces Operator.
The contents of the email were read out in full by the programme presenter, Mr Thake, whose line of defence, when summoned to defend himself against the allegations of libel, was that “when a person called the station, I could not censor anyone,” adding that he always used to read out “every letter that was received”.
When questioned about the contents of that particular programme, the presenter could not confirm the transcript of the show, claiming that since he used to host the daily show for some two-and-a-half years, he had difficulty recalling the “the contents of each show”.
When delivering judgment, the court, presided over by magistrate Francesco Depasquale, observed that Mr Thake had made no effort to verify the allegations made in the email, nor did he produce the sender of that letter to testify in the case, choosing instead to read it out in full.
Moreover, this had not been a case of a live on-air call, but one in which the presenter had read out an email which he had received earlier on and which he could have sought to verify beforehand, the court observed.
On the basis of evidence put forward, it resulted that the allegations made in the email regarding Mr Cassar’s lack of qualifications, had been unfounded, since the former police officer had obtained training both locally as well as abroad, even in the US, over a long number of years.
He had even received special mention by foreign officials over his involvement in security handling during the 2015 CHOGM events in Malta.
While upholding the libel claims, the court regretfully observed that “we are living in a society where as a rule a public person is indiscriminately attacked… under the pretext of freedom of expression,” in a scenario where the media are being used as “divisive instruments to instill envy rather than to provide information and enhance education”.
The court also highlighted the “poor and unethical” handling of the show, a possible reflection of the “unhappy state of public media in general,” where the right to freedom of expression was being abused.
While declaring Karl Gouder as non-suited, given that it had not been proved that he had been registered editor of Radio 101 at the time, the court ordered Mr Thake to pay €3,000 in damages.
Dr Alfred Abela was counsel to Mr Cassar.
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