Two of Malta’s largest newspapers clashed in a very ugly way this week, after MaltaToday’s owner Saviour Balzan accused Times of Malta journalist Ivan Camilleri of attempting to shoplift a supermarket.
Camilleri has vehemently denied this report and his editors have stood by him, meaning the rest of us have so far been left in the uncomfortable position of having to decide who to believe based on their words alone. But concrete proof does, or at least it should exist; it just hasn’t been published yet.
First of all, let’s check off the parts of Balzan’s and Camilleri’s version of events which tally with each other.
Camilleri went shopping at Valyou in Naxxar and decided to use a trolley to carry his goods, either because he wanted to buy a significant number of items, or because his shopping list included heavy items or because he was simply feeling too lazy to carry everything in a shopping bag.
He paid for some of his items but, whether by intent or accident, he left some of them inside the trolley after he paid the bill. The cashier noticed and Camilleri immediately paid for the goods.
Sometime after this, Camilleri also spoke about the incident with Valyou Supermarket’s managing director Ray Mintoff. It is unknown whether Mintoff contacted Camilleri or vice versa but it is known that Mintoff didn’t view the incident as serious enough to warrant a police report.
After Camilleri published his denial, MaltaToday quoted Mintoff as stating: “I confronted [Camilleri] after and he was man enough to admit it and I assure he paid back, more than what he had taken… he said he should have known better because that’s what people expect from him. Yes, he paid for the mistake.”
However, MaltaToday’s story included a crucial two lines.
“Camilleri was called to the supermarket to explain himself after company superiors were alerted to an incident caught on the supermarket’s CCTV….Staff manning the CCTV alerted management that Camilleri had allegedly pilfered an unspecified amount of highly-priced goods.”
ONE News, hardly Camilleri’s largest fan-club, recognised this as the most important aspect of the story and indeed titled its original story “It’s been reported that Camilleri was caught robbing on CCTV”.
Camilleri has denied this, stating that at no point did staff manning the CCTV alert the supermarket’s management and that “there was NO SHOPLIFTING except in Mr Balzan’s fertile imagination”.
If CCTV footage does exist (and there are cameras wherever you look nowadays so it will be a massive surprise if it doesn’t), then the evidence can make or break either journalist’s version of events. For one, it will prove what the ‘highly-priced’ goods were; did Camilleri not originally pay for a blender, a large can of caviar or a Lindt chocolate bar?
And what were the journalist’s movements like? Did he sneakily try to conceal the mysterious items with one hand as he dumped the other items onto the conveyer belt with the other? Did he cast a knowing eye at the items as he walked away from the cashier? Or did he genuinely just forget to pay for them, perhaps because they were concealed to begin with?
Seeing as Balzan gave prominence to the CCTV footage, one would naturally assume he is either in possession of it or that he has seen it with his own eyes. If so, then it must be published without further ado.
And if he didn’t see the video, then that would beg the question as to why he published the story in the first place. Why accuse a journalist of being a thief when the reality could just as well have been that he had made a very simple mistake? From now on, will anyone who forgets to pay for a cappuccino but does so after being reminded by a waiter run the risk of getting named and shamed by the press? Or will that treatment only be reserved for Ivan Camilleri?
There are other questions that must be asked too. Why wasn’t the story published in MaltaToday’s Wednesday paper? When a newspaper gets hold of an exclusive story that it knows will remain theirs alone, it usually holds onto it till the next print edition so that people who buy it will be able to read newer stories than the ones that were published online the previous day.
The fact that the shoplifting story wasn’t published in MaltaToday’s last Wednesday paper must mean one of two things. Either Balzan received and wrote the story sometime between Tuesday’s evening print deadline and 11:45am on Wednesday or his own editors did not think it newsworthy enough to feature in the paper. As he said himself a few months ago, he has stepped away from the editorial aspect of his business.
What we also know as a fact is that there is no love lost between Balzan and Camilleri… just look at their respective social media reactions to the story.
“We are all equal before the law and no one is above it,” Balzan said. “We are living in the midst of a bunch of self-entitled brats who think that they are unique and have the right to pontificate and hit out at a chosen few.”
“The so-called editor has a clear agenda to try to tarnish the reputation of serious people who spent their lives fighting what is wrong, no matter who does it and the personal sacrifices such a job entails,” Camilleri retorted.
That’s perfectly fine. Journalists are humans, not robots, and we like and dislike different people just as much as everyone else, but we should certainly not abuse our platforms to falsely paint our professional competitors as criminals.
Balzan might be correct in accusing Camilleri of being a thief but that’s an incredibly serious allegation and, particularly given the personal animosity that exists between the two, we’re going to need more than his word for it.
The CCTV footage must be published.