A disgraced former Prime Minister walks into an inquiry intent on dictating its terms. It could be the start of a joke. It almost turned out to be one. Malta’s very own symbol of impunity tried the tactic of cocky bravado when his turn to face the music finally came. We can, however, reflect on the brazenness with which Muscat went about telling judges their business because here, finally, was an inquiry that had run beyond his tight sphere of control.
He tried to set the stage both on and off set – contradicting himself in the process. “I do not follow Facebook,” said the man under oath while his Facebook account went into communication overdrive in a clumsy attempt at damage reduction.
That we would not get much out of Muscat was a given. What we get is mostly from his omissions or what he surely believes is an intelligent economy with the truth. All those arrogant replies given over the years covering up for the den of thieves he called Cabinet may still come back to haunt him.
They may not do so following an inquiry that seemed too small for its shoes as long as he was in the witness stand but he will surely rue his ‘history will judge me’ sooner rather than later. His populistic rallying calls are wearing thin and in time he will be less able to sell this aura of perception he has built around his persona over the years. Bitterness will play a major part in his undoing. It is a weakness of his that is mostly manifested when he must deal with the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Try as he might to depict her as irrelevant, he still had to concede that she was the most formidable of his opposers. Caruana Galizia was the opposition. No amount of rewriting of recent history will hide the fact that not only was she the opposition and not only was she effective but that Muscat had to resort to setting her up as an object of hate and vilification. That is why he would see nothing wrong with plastering her face all over a billboard.
That, incidentally, dear disgraced ex-PM, is part of the remit of this inquiry – understanding how a journalist or an activist can be set up as an object of popular hate using a propaganda machine of incessant vilification. Understanding how the masses who never set their eyes on one single article of a journalist can be tuned to hate her. How they can begin to consider her to be irrelevant, dispensable, an irritable blemish that must be silenced.
It-Torċa, an essential component of the Labour propaganda machine, ‘won’ a libel case brought against it by Occupy Justice activist Pia Zammit this week. Magistrate Montebello delivered an impeccable application of the letter of the law in this case. The case hinged on whether two articles carried by the paper reached the standard of defamation as required by the new Media and Defamation law. In brief, they do not.
They do not because seen in isolation from the political context in which a photo (from 2009) of an activist (in 2019) is dug out to be commented upon based on her appearance in actor’s clothing backstage and ignoring completely the theatrical dimension they could be interpreted as being fair comment. Magistrate Montebello rightly reminded Zammit that she had sued It-Torċa and only It-Torċa, not the many others who later reproduced the article on social media and used it as a basis to slander her and her work as an activist.
The Court could only limit itself to the newspaper article purposely wearing the same type of legal blinkers used by Magistrate Joe Mifsud in the Case of the Kidnapped Journalists at Castille that has made legal history.
Both Magistrates make it a point to stick to the letter of the law. It is within their remit. Everybody can see though, in the workings of this type of article by It-Torċa, that it is not the article itself in a vacuum that has a defamatory effect. It is the article in the context of a political character assassination. It is when the hyenas of the political newsroom are unleashed to wreak havoc on political opponents.
Pia Zammit is a public figure, and in 2019 she fronted an activist association. Chronicling a photo dug up from 2009 with a very spurious value comment that purposely feigns ignorance of theatrical realities has only one purpose. Vilification. Setting up political opponents as objects of hate.
That, I submit, is Joseph’s Character Assassination Propaganda Machine at work.