Court lambasts talk show host's 'poor and unethical' standards

The case was also 'a reflection of the unhappy state which public broadcasting in general finds itself, where everyone insults everyone else without any form of investigation or justification other than the pretext of freedom of expression' - Magistrate Francesco Depasquale

The court ordered radio talk show host David Thake to pay €3,000 in libel damages to ex-RIU shooting instructor Patrick Cassar
The court ordered radio talk show host David Thake to pay €3,000 in libel damages to ex-RIU shooting instructor Patrick Cassar

A court fulminated against divisive radio and TV programmes as it ordered radio talk show host David Thake to pay €3,000 in libel damages to ex-RIU shooting instructor Patrick Cassar.

The court's decision concerned an episode when Thake had read out during a radio programme a defamatory letter about Cassar, which he claimed to have received from a listener.

The letter alleged that the Superintendent Nezren Grixti and “Sergeant 935” – Cassar’s number in the force – had torpedoed the police’s fledgling SWAT team.

The letter, the name of whose writer was never disclosed, dedicated a whole paragraph to denigrating Cassar’s knowledge and experience in the field, mocking him as someone who “learns stuff from YouTube” and then teaches personalised versions of it to his students. “This person is incompetent and was given great glory by Nezren Grixti simply because he is Labour,” read part of the letter.

But it emerged from Cassar’s testimony that he was a police shooting instructor, who had attended a number of SWAT courses, some organised by the FBI Tactical Section in the USA. His work in training the police and VIP security for the 2015 CHOGM event had been recognized and praised by Canadian and French officials.

Thake, on the other hand, initially could not remember or confirm what was said on his program. After the court refreshed his memory by means of a transcript, he had confirmed that “when a person makes contact with the station, I cannot censor anyone.” He would read every letter that the station would receive, he said.

The second defendant, Karl Gouder, as the editor of Radio 101, said that Media Link Communications Ltd, which ran the station would “try not to interfere with what our presenters say” and “as much as possible, we leave them free to express themselves.”

The defendants had argued that the statement constituted “fair comment” and was not libellous.

The court observed that Gouder had not been indicated as the editor of Radio 101 and had not said so in his testimony, for this reason, he could not be held responsible for the content of the broadcast.

On Thake, the court said he had made no effort to try and justify the comments, much less produce the person who allegedly sent him the email which he had chosen to read in full on his programme.

Magistrate Depasquale noted that Thake had defended himself by stating that he could not censor live phone calls on his programme and that every email it received had to be read out without censorship, “because that’s what he felt he should do.”

The court said it could not but observe that the defendant had the opportunity to read his emails beforehand and recognise potentially libellous material. Once he had opted to read them out in their entirety, he was making the comments his and should shoulder responsibility for them, said the court.

Just because the plaintiff was a public person by virtue of being a police officer, this didn’t mean that he could be attacked and mocked at liberty, without any form of proof, on broadcast media, said the court.

The court noted with displeasure that local broadcast media was being used as a tool for division and jealousy and not for information or education. “The broadcasting of the content of the email by David Thake without him making any type of fact checking is a clear indication of the poor state and unethical manner in which the defendant’s programme is managed, and possibly is also a reflection of the unhappy state which public broadcasting in general finds itself, where everyone insults everyone else without any form of investigation or justification other than the pretext of freedom of expression, and then protest their innocence when the person insulted and ridiculed chooses to protect his rights and reputation by seeking the protection of the courts!”

Broadcasts that are solely intended to hurt and damage persons could not hide behind the shield of freedom of expression, said the magistrate. “These cowardly and vicious actions do great damage to the entire broadcasting community and the credibility these have with citizens, who expect…not to be indoctrinated by attacks and continuous waves of hatred which appear to have become fashionable in Maltese society and broadcast media.”

Lawyer Peter Fenech was counsel to Thake. Lawyer Alfred Abela appeared for Cassar.

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