TVM sports journalist in spat with satirical Facebook page

Experienced sports journalist does not see the funny side of satirical Facebook page poking fun at Maltese football commentators 

Sandro Micallef
Sandro Micallef

The World Cup silly season is finally here and as expected Maltese commentators and journalists are the talk of the town (and social media sites).

And despite the national broadcaster’s decision to air all World Cup matches in English, local commentators and journalists remain under the spotlight.

However, one particular journalist did not see the funny side of it.

TVM sports journalist and presenter Sandro Micallef this week threatened to take legal action against a Facebook page ‘Zbalji tal-Kummentaturi Maltin’ (Errors by Maltese commentators) which poked fun at his choice of words while commentating a football match.

On Friday, the page’s administrator uploaded Micallef’s photo which included a quote which read ‘Jaqbez wiehed, jaqbez tnejn, qisu sikkina tahraq diehla fil-butir” (He goes past one, two players like a hot knife through butter).

The feeble attempt to mock one of Malta’s more experienced sports journalists was met by a strong-worded comment below the image by Micallef himself, copied to PBS lawyer Mark Vassallo, threatening to take legal action unless the photo was removed by midday.

“I warn you that if this is not done by Friday noon, I will take legal action against this page, the administrator and who made use of my image/s, including an official report to Facebook, a police report at the Hamrun police station and a request for an investigation by the police’s Cyber Crime Unit,” Micallef wrote.

He also called on the page’s administrator to make no reference to him “not even in a humoristic or satirical manner” on the Facebook page, insisting that “the disparaging and degrading comments not only are defamatory but could also pose a risk to my job at PBS.”

Micallef signed off the comment by warning that he would keep the page’s administrator responsible for any moral and financial damages he could suffer in his employment in the near future.

However, the story had a happy ending with the image being removed and Micallef expressing his satisfaction at the outcome.

In comments to MaltaToday, Micallef said “the picture has been removed and the administrators have apologised, explaining that there was no malicious intent.”

He added that he had no qualms being criticised, “as long as it’s not malicious and aimed at hurting the target.”

Pointing out that apart from being a journalist and presenter, he also represented sports journalists in his role as secretary-general of the Malta Sports Journalists Association, Micallef said: “it’s easy to be an armchair critic but everyone should shoulder his or her responsibility.”

Yet, in a separate post the page’s administrator fell short from issuing an outright apology, instead pointing out that Micallef and his lawyer’s reaction was “childish and disproportionate.”

The note added that “after submitting to the legal threats I wish to end all communication between us and bilaterally stop from hindering each other in our work.”

Moreover, the image and any other references to Micallef had been removed “not because we are brownnosing anyone or because we did anything wrong but out of respect to his career and dignity” the administrator said.

The administrator also explained that the image was copied from Google Images, insisting that at no point was the image used to degrade Micallef.

“We only used quotations by journalists because of the public nature of their job and the fact that they’re open to criticism and satire since we live in a society which supposedly holds freedom of thought and expression as sacrosanct.”