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Raphael Vassallo

Good news? Gee, how disappointing….

When international reports, studies, etc., come to conclusions which conflict with these innate prejudices of ours, we are not only ‘surprised’, but… ‘disappointed’

Raphael Vassallo
16 February 2016, 7:05am
Footage of the actual interview with Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi revealed how heavily edited the Le Iene interview was, deliberately portraying interviewees in a bad light
Footage of the actual interview with Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi revealed how heavily edited the Le Iene interview was, deliberately portraying interviewees in a bad light
Of course, it works just as well the other way round. Bad news? Great, terrific, bring it on…

But let’s start (in proper medical fashion) with the good news. You may recall how, some weeks ago, a study by Yale University placed Malta ninth in a list of environmentally-friendly countries worldwide. 

Yeah, I was initially a bit flummoxed about it myself. It’s not as though (let’s face it) this country feels as though it might feature in the world’s Top 10 greenest places to live. For one thing, there isn’t an awful lot of green. And what little there is seems to be constantly under threat, too. We are already the most overdeveloped country in Europe (per square kilometre) by an order of magnitude… and yet the only thing we ever seem capable of agreeing on is sacrificing more rural space for development.

That’s not to mention the traffic, with its effects on air quality, and so forth.

But then, I suppose you have to weigh all that against the situation in other, infinitely more populated (and much more industrialised) parts of the world. Our smog situation? It kind of fizzles from view slightly, when compared to, say, Beijing’s. And it didn’t surprise me in the least to discover that the United States would place 26th in the same list. Just look at the sheer pervasiveness of that country’s toxic industry, pumping all sorts of waste into rivers, lakes, canyons and whatnot. 

Not only do we not have any comparable industry of our own… but we don’t even have rivers, lakes or canyons to pump any waste into. No whatnots, either. In fact, we couldn’t damage our environment as much as the Americans, even if we made it the one, single purpose of our entire existence.

All things told, then, the result of that study shouldn’t really have surprised us at all. Malta is a tiny country with hardly any noxious industries to speak of. If anything, the opposite result should have raised eyebrows. It would have been uncanny – nay, positively bizarre – had that study discovered that a tiny rock in the middle of the Mediterranean, without any chemical plants or oil refineries or space programmes – or even car factories – managed to somehow compete with the States, China, India, etc. for pollution and waste. 

Yet that Yale study very clearly did surprise us. And not necessarily in a good way, either.

In my case, at any rate, the surprise was a pleasant one. For once, it seemed the news wasn’t all bad. Maybe there is hope for the future. Just maybe… But that’s just me, and (as you’ve probably worked out by now), I’m a bit of a dreamer. Let’s have a look at how everyone else reacted to the same news.

This, for instance, was a genuine Facebook status update at the time (never mind whose, nobody in the public eye): “This report is somewhat strange and somewhat disappointing, coming from two prestigious universities…”

Got that, folks? ‘Strange’ and ‘disappointing’.

Similar sentiments abounded all over social networks. It struck many people as both ‘strange’ and ‘disappointing’ that an international study, of any kind, would come to anything but a cataclysmic conclusion about Malta in 2016. After all, we live under a Labour government, don’t we? And we’ve all been inured to believe that no good of any kind can possibly come under a Labour government... still less, any good that would be picked up and commented upon by foreigners.

So when international reports, studies, etc., come to conclusions which conflict with these innate prejudices of ours, we are not only ‘surprised’, but… ‘disappointed’. It is as though these pesky foreigners are not playing the part accorded to them in the script. We had a deal, damn it. They are supposed to give us all ammunition to use against the government, like they used to do in the good old days of Mintoff and KMB. Not the other way round…

Ah well. Fast-forward to this week, and that little ‘Le Iene’ episode that got everyone into a tizzy automatically springs to mind. I won’t go into the specifics again… suffice to say that when I watched the clip, the journalist in me was immediately struck by how very shallow and unconvincing the entire set-up was. I went on to describe it as ‘stone age journalism’ in my blog last Wednesday… and that was before unedited clips of the same interview surfaced, proving beyond any doubt that the Iene feature was not only flawed from a journalism perspective… but also downright dishonest.

We now know that entire answers given by Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi were not even aired at all… instead, the clip was edited to make out that he had avoided the question, when the opposite was true.

Now that I’ve seen both sides of that exchange… well, I almost feel I owe those stone-age journalists an apology. But let’s leave all that aside (otherwise, the many Maltese fans of Le Iene – most of whom lead a double-life chatting in Italian on the worldwide web – might get a little upset). As with the Yale study, it was the public reactions that fascinated me.

Long before anyone even bothered working out if there was any truth to the central premise of that news item – i.e., that Malta had refused to pay for a service rendered, resulting in an honest Italian company filing for bankruptcy – nine out of 10 reactions were along the lines of…. Maa, how embarrassing! We’re all over Italian TV, made out to look like a bunch of crooks... 

Strangely, however, the people professing such ‘embarrassment’ didn’t really act all that embarrassed, did they? I don’t know about you, but if something ‘embarrassed’ me, I wouldn’t exactly rush to the Internet to circulate it as widely as possible. Quite the other way round, I would have thought. If it’s embarrassing, you’d want to hide it from view… to spare your country more embarrassment than it already had received.

Ah yes, but that would have been the logical reaction. Just as it would be logical to react to good news with relief and pleasure, instead of bewilderment and disappointment. There is, of course, no logic involved in this particular equation. There cannot be, because ‘prejudice’ and ‘logic’ are not only diametrically opposed, but inherently antagonistic. One cannot abide the other…

For most people on the receiving end of that clip, the actual ‘truth’ of the matter was an irrelevance. Ultimately, this was nothing more than a little ammunition to be used against the government of the day… provided to us by foreigners, just like the good old days… so: who cares if there’s any actual basis to the allegation? Who cares if even the barest minimum of journalistic ethics were observed in the making of it? It’s bad news for Malta, so… Great! Terrific! Bring it on…!

I said it last Wednesday, and I’ll say it again. Joseph Calleja was right. The real embarrassment is the zeal with which people here are only too ready to rubbish their own country, regardless of the actual circumstances. My only regret is that I can’t intone that sentiment into an operatic aria…

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