Media coverage of the landmark sentence given by Magistrate Joe Mifsud in the case the police instituted against Jason Azzopardi centres, as is to be expected, on the decision that the MP is not guilty as charged.
Quite naturally the court's decision is always a very important factor; the most important for the person accused, the accuser and society at large.
But I believe that the process that leads to that decision and other comments pronounced by the court can be equally important, particularly in this case. These together with the final outcome make Magistrate Mifsud's a very important contribution towards the safeguarding of free speech in our country.
Since I plan to find space for a longer comment on the sentence, I highlight just three important considerations besides the ‘not guilty’ verdict.
Each institution is expected to shoulder its responsibilities without passing them on to others. This comes out very clear with the magistrate’s criticism of the police. They believed there was no case but went ahead just because the office of the Attorney General told them to do so. Passing on the buck should be a no-no.
The whole issue had its genesis from a mistaken report in Times of Malta; a mistake which the paper acknowledged, rectified and apologised for. That's how things should be. But the magistrate quite rightly advises editors to train journalists in the various beats they cover.
[/quote]Unfortunately there there were editors, senior journalists and commentators who perpetuated the untruth about a persecution for criminal libel and pontificated about it
Journalism education, particularly permanent education, is lacking in Malta. There were several laudable efforts along the way. The Times of Malta was at the forefront of such efforts but more is needed particularly by those media houses that do nothing in this regard.
Should one always believe what one reads in the papers or other sectors of the media? The magistrate gives a warning. The media landscape, and I do not just refer to the mother of all mayhem called Facebook, reported that this was a case of criminal libel. At the very beginning of the case the magistrate clearly stated this was not the case. The misinformation continued just the same.
The magistrate tried again to correct this wrong impression in his sentence.
The role of the media, I believe, is not to spread misinformation (saying that this is criminal libel when it is not) but to communicate facts as they really are. Unfortunately there there were editors, senior journalists and commentators who perpetuated the untruth about a persecution for criminal libel and pontificated about it. This is a serious disservice.
The sentence is worth reading. It is an extremely well-referenced decision. It should be must reading not just for lawyers, politicians and journalists but also for the public who want to be better informed about its rights.
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