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Prostitutes and hypocrites

Most journalists in Malta have no idea how difficult it is to run a media organization

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
22 May 2017, 7:46am
Even though there is freedom of the press in Malta, there will always be two weights and two measures for pretty much everything
Even though there is freedom of the press in Malta, there will always be two weights and two measures for pretty much everything
I guess this is my ninth election. And this is surely not the worst election when it comes to tension and stress, though it is not far from being one of the more depressing ones.  

It makes you wonder whether it can get any worse. The worst thing of all is the hypocrisy and heavy-handedness of those who consider you to be an ‘adversary’.

The other day I had a visit from an OSCE delegation of two election observers who are watching the Maltese election closely. After a day in the office, with only papers and reports, you sort of welcome some intelligent conversation.

It soon turned into one of my monologues. I went into overdrive. “This a democratic country, and both parties are simply anal and crazy when it comes to elections. We have a fair election and there is no hanky-panky.”

They asked about journalism in Malta. “It is free, but few can be analytical and objective, and if you are you face being pigeon-holed anyway because most journalists have their own prejudices. But there is no election fraud here. The parties have a tight grip on the system and nothing escapes them.”

They stared at me. “Do you have any problems in publishing stories?”

“No, apart from commercial constraints. None at all. My journalists can write whatever they like, even against those who advertise with us. In fact most of the time they do just that.”

They started to smile.

I explained that most journalists in Malta have no idea how difficult it is to run a media organization. It really is the worst kind of business you can get into.

They asked me about violence, and they sort of indicated that someone in a separate meeting had talked of violence in the street originating after the elections.

“What?” I asked. I inquired where they had got this information. And I explained that the journalist who spoke his mind had been ill-informed and exaggerating. “Demons from the past are being resurrected and that is the worst thing of all. This journalist was not even born then. It is a long time ago: 30 years ago.”

I told them even though there is freedom of the press in Malta, there will always be two weights and two measures for pretty much everything. The big problem is the enormous influence of the political parties. Their influence is everywhere. “They want to own you.”

How? they asked.

“I for one, am expected to believe a story that obviously targets a politician, without hard facts. If I question the veracity of a story, I am abused and taken to the cleaners on the social media or accused of being a puppet. There is also a lot of apartheid politics going on. People find nothing wrong if one side errs, but plenty when the other side does.

“This is a small country, so people most of the time talk to themselves, listen to themselves and hurl abuse against the others. The others being those who do not shut up or say yes. It is no different from other democracies here in Malta, but the problem is that one cannot be straight and say it as it is because we are so small.” 

They looked at me and asked what I was talking about. And then I went into a long story about the politics of hate in Malta and the way the tribes work, the nepotism and the self-conceited opinions of those in different political camps. I spoke about the IGM being a lame duck in all this, about fake news stories, and about journalists who are so one-sided that they believed their own lies, and about the invisible chord between journalists and politicians.

“Most of the time it is the pot calling the kettle black. I am too old not to see through all this. I also am not impressed by any talk promising virginal politics. The politicians expect to be backed when they have no facts, just perception and simple distaste for the other side. You don’t change a brothel into a convent, by simply getting the prostitutes to change their clothes into nuns’ garments and by getting them to pray instead of offering sex as a service.” 

They smiled. 

“Where are you from?” I asked as they left. One of them smiled, I looked at his business card. Hungary? Finland? I asked.

“From the country of the moment,” he replied. “Jesus, I said…  Azerbaijan.” And we all laughed.

***

In March of this year, MaltaToday came together with other journalists from numerous media organisations. Sitting down in the office of Newsweek in Belgrade, we met halfway and debated with our fellow journalists about the facts, untruths, truths, misconceptions about the Maltese tax regime, and helped to give them a clearer picture of the full imputation system.

The reason MaltaToday was invited to join the European Investigative Collaborations is because before Panama broke the headlines, we were well known as a serious and consistent newspaper when it comes to investigative stories about Malta’s fiscal regime.

And we wrote about everyone, not only blue PEPs or red PEPs.

Our legal framework has been cultivated since the mid-nineties and it has become more robust because of the dexterity of the big and small audit and accountancy firms and the support of the political class. The direct and indirect contribution to the economy is well noted.

The questions surrounding the morality of the system – the way it can reduce taxes paid by foreign corporations to just 5% on profits generated in other countries – has been our driver. Because of our countless reports, we have won no plaudits, and been derided as “traitors”.

It is true that many foreign media organisations think that Malta is a tax haven. And they thought so before Panama hit the headlines. But in the last weeks, we have managed to explain to them what our financial services stand for.

We have a right to point out what is happening behind the scenes. In our meetings in Belgrade and here in Malta we planned the launch of the stories to coincide with the Maltese presidency, to highlight the need to debate what is going on in the European sphere by giving factual examples.

We agreed months back that the date for the launch of these stories would be on the 20 May, 2017. 

The Malta Files project, emerging in the shadow of the allegations about Egrant and Pilatus Bank, may be a welcome or unwelcome coincidence, depending whether you support Busuttil or Muscat.

The truth is that these stories are backed by facts whether one agrees or not, and that makes them stories. As journalists, we do not choose the timing of a story when the facts speak for themselves and therefore must be published. This was the same spirit that has guided all our major new stories.

Many of those who shudder at the thought of the Panama Papers revelations should start by asking why these stories should not be published. When do we draw a red line? When it suits somebody in a political party? And why is it that we only publish a story if a politically exposed person is mentioned?

Our role in Malta Files only confirms the consistency with which we wrote about Malta’s tax regime. Timing never counts. 

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