Last week, the publication of the conclusions of the Egrant magisterial inquiry dominated the news cycle. Now, attention has shifted to the internecine warfare within the PN, as different factions fight like ferrets in a sack. The Egrant fallout continues, and the local media need not fear the absence of news in what was once known as the silly season.

Maybe the one aspect of the Egrant Expose that hasn’t been examined enough is the media’s role in it. Has the Fourth Estate fulfilled its role to the public? Has the media rooted out the facts and carried out in-depth investigations? Has it helped to inform the public so that voters can make rational and knowledgeable decisions? Has it helped in ensuring that government is held accountable for its actions? In this case, I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, some media exponents turned themselves into an echo-chamber, parroting the allegation without carrying out any independent corroboration as to its veracity or otherwise. They dismissed the necessity of scrutinising or seeing any form of documentary evidence themselves and relied entirely on second hand sources of information. They fell for the narrative they wanted to believe and omitted any evidence which indicated the possibility of Egrant belonging to anyone other than Michelle Muscat or the Prime Minister. This will inevitably have repercussions on the credibility of the media in future.

In turn, this diminishes the power of citizens to take informed decisions, as the stories which are being published are those which journalists have fallen in thrall to, and not necessarily scrutinised well.

There is another worrying aspect about the way the conclusions into the Egrant inquiry have been received. It’s the way that doubts are being cast as to the soundness of the conclusions because (a) the magistrate could never have been able to get hold of all the evidence and (b) the identity of the owner of Egrant was not ascertained with absolute conviction.

Reactions of the sort undermine the whole judicial process

Reactions of the sort undermine the whole judicial process because they imply that unconfirmed rumours have more weight than a lengthy investigation carried out by a member of the judiciary. It is immaterial to the case at hand if other inquiries concerning money laundering are still underway. This particular investigation was limited to a particular allegation – that Egrant belonged to the Muscats. It is a basic tenet of law that specific charges are investigated separately and the evidence is weighed in each different case.

To give an example, one can’t be charged with forging a document and then have charges or evidence about an alleged robbery thrown in the mix. That’s fudging – and justice isn’t about fudging and being approximative. It’s about collecting evidence dispassionately, weighing up the credibility of witnesses and sources and then coming to reasoned conclusions.

If we continue to refuse the fact that this is an end better reached by careful magisterial scrutiny than by biased and unconfirmed allegations, then the whole rule of law concept is really endangered.

I find some interesting parallels between the Egrant saga and the Lockheed scandal which erupted in the early 1970s in several countries across the world.

The Lockheed scandals included the giving of  bribes  by officials of US aerospace company Lockheed  in the process of negotiating the sale of aircraft. The Italian branch of the scandal involved the bribery of Christian Democrat and Socialist politicians to favour the purchase by the Italian Air Force of Hercules transport planes.

Allegations of bribery were made by the press and opinion writer Camilla Cederna against President Giovanni Leone. Leone was a serial gaffeur, making many social faux pas and living it up with his family in the Roman capital. He was considered to be a member of the old guard, the decadent establishment, part of the corrupt lot.

The incisive and sarcastic Cederna wrote a book about him and his allegedly profligate ways. The pressure by the media was enormous. Up and coming radical politicians Emma Bonini and Marco Pannella clamoured for Leone’s resignation which he tendered in 1978. Eventually he was vindicated, with Camilla Cederna being found guilty of defamation.

On his 90th birthday – 20 years after his resignation – Bonini and Panella wrote an open letter of apology. Some years ago, Paolo Mieli, the director of the School of Journalism of dell’Università Suor Orsola Benincasa, had asked his students to carry out some research about the Leone Case and the factors which influenced it.

Mieli said this to his students: “Feeling that you are on the side of righteousness in the battle between good and evil is a very different thing from that required by our profession – that is to be on the side of the truth. And truth is found not by selecting only what we consider to be good but trying to verify those facts which could destroy our preconceived ideas.”

In a nutshell, what genuine investigative journalism should be about.