So I'm chipping in a Facebook conversation, as you do, on the Egrant inquiry. Basically I'm correcting the idea that the Egrant report concludes that Egrant does not belong to the Muscats. I am stating a fact - "Ma nstabx" means "It was not found". This does not translate to "Innocent". In fact, a magisterial inquiry, by its very nature, can never come up with a verdict of innocent or guilty. All well and good. We'd been here before. They knew they were not going to win this argument.
But then, I decided to push it a little further. I declared that, in light of all the circumstantial evidence, I believed that Egrant did in fact belong to the Muscats.
Of course, the person on the other end of this discussion went all hyperbolic. Exclamation marks and capital letters were in full flow. I had no right to believe anything, it was proclaimed.
The point is that if I have formed an opinion, based on circumstantial evidence and a weighing up of the various versions and the motivations of the various protagonists, then this is my opinion. I would like to think that it is a well informed opinion. Of course it is not yet fact. Possibly it will never be. But that's because Joseph Muscat - the accused - was effectively in charge of the magisterial inquiry. To me it was a brazen orchestration. To me, Joseph Muscat setting the terms, deciding when, and probably deciding who would conduct a magisterial inquiry is another count against him. It smacks of guilt.
So am I not entitled to express this opinion? There is a distinction to be made between absolute fact and opinion, of course. If the opinion is in my head, why should I not express it? Is this not a warping of what is meant by freedom of expression?
All I'm doing is stating what many people are thinking. And I'm going to say what I'm thinking. Not out of malice. Not at all. But because I want to express my thoughts.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
We have to challenge the mistaken idea that people have to speak only about facts, that journalists can only write about facts. There is a fascist tendency I see all over facebook - and not just in Malta - where attempts are made to suppress freedom of expression. If you are clear that it is an opinion, and that you are not stating facts, then this cannot be subject to a defamation case. You have every right to state what you think.
Language is such a powerful tool in the hands of the manipulators. We've got to fight back somehow.