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Yellow, gutter and fake journalism

Liars and hate-bloggers will always exist and there is little we can do about them; but politics cannot be created out of gossip and hatred, it must be borne of ideas.

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
30 January 2017, 8:00am
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Opposition is becoming more reliant on the kind of yellow journalism that people like Donald Trump have thrived upon. Without wanting to sound alarmist, the situation has become worse than ever.

For all his defects, even former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi would never show his hand and issue political statements based on unverified claims in blogs that do not adhere to a minimum of fact-checking.

Which is not the case with Simon Busuttil, whose PN seems to be nurturing a special synergy with the bile blogger.

Rosette Thake, now the secretary-general of the PN, had co-authored a report after the last election which pointed out that the bile blogger had been a contributing factor to the toxicity of the Nationalist brand in the run-up to 2013. Thake must have apparently changed her mind.

The problem with the bile blogger is very simple: in the main, the output is unadulterated invective and invented assumptions, even fiction. And yes, she does get it right at times. But the protocol is simple: she is told something and she just goes ahead and publishes it, without any verification at all.

Liars and hate-bloggers will always exist and there is little we can do about them. What we can definitely do with the Nationalist Party, and Labour for that matter, is to point out that if they are serious about politics – a politics that respects voters – they cannot have knee-jerk reactions every time these fabrications go online.

Politics cannot be created out of gossip and hatred. It must be borne of ideas.

Take this an example: one of the bile blogger’s posts was that the Labour poster personality and television presenter Ramona Frendo had met Adrian Hillman, former managing director of Allied Newspapers. Nothing wrong about that. Just simply not true, a pure invention about two people who actually, never met each other. The act of verification works just like that: you check out a claim with the people concerned. But some have no qualms about lying.

And there you go. Once it is published, the gullible, or perhaps people who are not as media literate as others, believe it. Now that may come as no surprise. But it is astonishing that a political party partly would use unverified claims for its political platform.

Of course, the news tends to change: what seems to be correct at the time may turn out to be false weeks later. Which is why even those in the public eye should be careful about news they might consider worthy of their attention. Take the Archbishop, who once tweeted about the medical visas scandal, when the source of that story is today turning out to be an untrustworthy ‘whistleblower’.

Forget about the difference between what is true and what isn’t. When Daphne Caruana Galizia’s odium gets thrown out into the ether, when she chooses to say that “Adrian Hillman is corrupt”, that supposition has not proof to back it. She may believe it, think it’s true, but where is the evidence to prove it?

If journalists and the mainstream media – for it remains mainstream by adhering to the rules of journalism – accuse anyone of being corrupt, without any proof, then we will be faced with a defamation suit. We are even served with citations when we report that someone is been investigated by the police. In the position of somebody who is being untruthfully accused of wrongdoing, I would sue for damages, and win hands down.

The only problem is that Caruana Galizia will not pay damages. She will cough up only when it suits her. I know this from experience: because she owes MaltaToday money and has not paid up. Ask the Inland Revenue Department, too, about what she owes the State’s coffers. She prefers parting with her hatred as she offloads it into the river of bunkum on her laptop, seated in the lobby of the Westin.

Take the recent statement by Nationalist MP Robert Cutajar on Labour MP Luciano Busuttil. The latter, former Hamrun mayor has had a few mishaps for which he has only himself to blame, but that makes him perfect fodder.

This time around, he is not to blame. His wife was wheelchair-bound in May 2013 after a nasty traffic accident, and was given a blue badge in August 2013. Two years later she was re-assessed by a doctor at the National Commission for Disabled Persons, and she had her badge renewed for another two years. The badge was hers, and yes, on occasion Luciano Busuttil accompanied his wife with her car, to help her out at the supermarket. But he himself never had a blue badge and never used the wife’s badge himself.

But simply because it was scripted on the blog, Robert Cutajar rushed out with a statement once again, even merging the Panama Papers scandal with the bile blogger’s wild imagination on the blue badge.

How much more time is there to waste? This is starting to look like some sort of Munchausen syndrome: individuals who fake sickness to seek attention and sympathy.

Simon Busuttil wants to build an Opposition which offers an alternative choice for the next election, and he owes that to the country, but if he persists in allowing this madness for knee-jerk campaigns, he is going to get nowhere.

Apartheid in the economy

The hype on the Panama Papers was that the EU had been shell-shocked by what was happening in Malta. And yet, in a week dominated by European Parliament hearings and after the Commission’s visit, there was little evidence that anyone, apart from his compatriots, was eager to corner the Maltese minister with the Panama account.

As Panama appears to have been, for the time being, placed on the backburner, Konrad Mizzi must have been a very happy man, facing limited questioning, not by irked MEPs but by David Casa and Roberta Metsola. Other MEPs, in other committees, were actually more interested in Malta’s tax imputation system, something that irks French and German MEPs because it offers companies an attractively favourable tax regime, especially for gaming companies and the financial services. Both sectors contribute in no small way to the Maltese economy.

Now, much has been said about Konrad Mizzi. For sure, he should have resigned. That is not up for discussion. He stayed on because Joseph Muscat had no fixer for his energy project. But for those who have energy affairs at heart, inside the EP, Malta’s LNG plant deal sounds like a dream because it means a smaller carbon footprint. And that’s no mean feat, no matter what the critics say.

Back to Malta’s tax system, the real concern exists for some Europeans because they are furious that their own countrymen seek out Malta so as to be able to pay a paltry five per cent tax (if they don’t repatriate the cash back home *wink.)

I can live with the fact that Malta needs to invest in these new economies simply because they offer an edge on our competitors. After all, this is a small island, and what’s wrong about using our brains to be competitive?

But the big drawback, and it is a very serious one that no one seems to want to debate, is the fact that these companies are operating in a competitive environment which is making a) other Maltese companies unable to keep their employees who have the option of going for much higher salaries in these foreign companies; b) the gaming companies pay 5% tax, and c) their CEOs can pay a flat rate of 15% instead of 35%.

Of all these, the biggest issue is by far the salary issue. Most Maltese, with very little experience and not very spectacular qualifications, are finding themselves in salary brackets which none of the Maltese companies are able to match.

It is no joke to say that most Maltese companies cannot find well-trained staff and if they do, they usually lose them to one of the many iGaming companies. If gaming companies are bringing in the money, Maltese companies are praying that their staff do not abandon them because their salaries are not competitive enough.

Instead the high salaries in gaming have served as a godsend for the rental market and the entertainment sector. Which came at a high price, as the natives are now finding it impossible to rent and the price hikes in restaurants are taking prices beyond their reach.

There is of course a reluctance on the part of politicians to react to these new realities. The solutions to this dual economy are not easy. I am not sure if there is any fix, let alone a quick-fix, but what is sure is that you cannot have two economies working side-by-side in the same country, with one offering salaries which are three times the norm and taxed at 5% instead of 35%.

It is no joke, and politicians should stop ranting against each other and come up with a blueprint for this reality of two competing economies in the same country, working on different rules and realities.

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...
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