So who is a f***ing asshole?

If someone is a comedian or an actor, and it is abundantly clear that the purpose of one’s speech or act is comedy or theatre, then why the hell should we allow people like Manche to waste our time.

Describing a former police inspector as Clouseau was found to be defamatory
Describing a former police inspector as Clouseau was found to be defamatory

These are practically my last few days on the government-appointed Media Commission that was set up after the findings of the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry.   

My appointment on the commission came about, I guess, for the wrong reasons. My hope was that it had to do with the fact that I am the longest-serving journalist media owner, coupled with the fact that I have been served with the largest number of defamation cases - more than anyone else on the Island. 

In my far from modest view I think that the Media Commission was unfairly criticised and portrayed as being a rubber stamp for the government.   

The detractors and critics set this tone based on their prejudices and they fed into a narrative that was easy to play out by the vociferous NGOs who have monitored Malta’s record since the murder of Caruana Galizia. 

But in my sincere view, the Commission has missed a golden opportunity not because it will not deliver on its commitment but rather because the real issues that are related to media freedom have been overshadowed by concerns directly and solely related to the aftermath of the Caruana Galizia murder.  There are other and more pressing issues facing the very existence of the media. 

The future and sustainability of the Maltese media depend on far more than a raft of legal changes and this has barely been addressed because this was not the brief of the Commission. 

We are currently having a taste of another reality which is not a purely media issue but more of a freedom of speech issue. 

It is related to preacher Gordon-John Manche and his River of Love. Manche has chosen to proceed with police reports against individuals for poking serious fun at him. 

I am not surprised that Manche has decided to take people up to court for being called a ‘fucking asshole’.   

What is the big deal? Everyone opens defamation cases against the media, for illustrative descriptions which are relatively harmless. 

Just two months ago, the appeals court confirmed that my description of former Inspector Jonathan Ferris as Inspector Clouseau was defamatory and I was made to pay damages and all the court fees. I still believe that describing Ferris as Clouseau was within my rights, I obviously would agree that describing Manche as an asshole was also in everyone’s right.   

But I believe the principle here is basically the context and also whether any particular comment has led to other repercussions. 

For example, has my comment comparing a former policeman with Peter Sellers led to monetary depravation and isolation?  No.   

As far as I know Jonathan Ferris still has a well paid job.   

But then again, I recall when in the past this newspaper revealed how tourists in Malta were being ‘robbed alive ’ by a Maltese medical practitioner who was an MP and the magistrate who presided over the case did not contest the story but rather the fact that the story had contributed to the demise of one’s political career. 

So what one would say? 

In many foreign jurisdictions there is a marked difference between reporting incorrectly and offending a person.  In the case of the latter, the only time punitive measures are taken is when there is proof of loss of earnings. 

So, as everyone can judge, the whole interpretation process is very complex at the level of the judiciary, which means that the legal reforms that need to take place have to be very clear cut. 

To start with, if someone is a comedian or an actor, and it is abundantly clear that the purpose of one’s speech or act is comedy or theatre, then why the hell should we allow people like Manche to waste our time.   

The other thing that needs to be clear is that the world has changed, but it does not mean that everyone should be allowed to say what they like simply because it happens to follow a storyline. 

I speak out of experience and I believe that we all have responsibility with the choice of words. 

I cannot wake up in the morning and simply call the Prime Minister a fucking asshole or the Opposition leader a motherfucker.  If that is the case, then I will be the first one to pack up and call it a day. 

From these columns, we should take Manche to task. Thanks state that he is an extremist, an actor and someone who banalises sexuality and morality, is within my freedom to state. 

In this case it is not us who should come to the concluson that he is an asshole or the Messiah but the reader. 

The comedian or actor on the other hand is a completely different animal.  If we really want to kickstart a cultural revolution, we need to give our artists full freedom. 

Lawmakers (politicians) need to act fast here. 

Manche comes from a different world, it is clear that he manifestly proliferates in an environment where individuals are either ill-educated, uncultured, fragile or gullible. Not too far from the usual crowds that follow religious beliefs. 

He spouts phrases about the Bible and Jesus and God as if he were assigned by a superior being as the divine messenger. 

He emulates the hordes of American preachers who also find fertile ground among the large population of ignorant American individuals who believe all the bullshit they are made to listen to. 

In 2010, some 100 people carried a coffin mourning the death of art and freedom of expression.   

It is 2023, and it is clear that we still have some way to go.