Raphael Vassallo

Political media: treating people like idiots since 1992

In light of the PN leadership election, has it left us 'more divided than ever before?'

Raphael Vassallo
21 September 2017, 8:00am
'Doesn't it tell you absolutely everything you need to know about the state of political media in Malta in the 21st century?'
'Doesn't it tell you absolutely everything you need to know about the state of political media in Malta in the 21st century?'
Consider for a moment the sheer artistic beauty of this Nazzjon front cover, dated Monday, 18 September 2017. Isn’t it gorgeous? Doesn’t it tell you absolutely everything you never wanted to know about the state of political media in Malta in the 21st century? 

And it can save lives, too. Just think of all the times you’ve had to stick your fingers down your own (or someone else’s) throat, after accidentally taking a swig from a bottle of bleach. Well, all you have to do now is hang a framed copy of that Nazzjon front page on your bathroom wall, and... hey presto! Instant barf guaranteed, no fingers required.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: no, I’m not talking about the ad for cocktail sausages at the bottom of the page. People circulating this pic online had a lot of fun pointing out the regrettable juxtaposition of imagery there: an angelic Adrian Delia and his radiant wife, coupled with a tin of cocktail sausages saying ‘Let’s Party!’

To me, however, the real joke is the headline. ‘Il-Bidla li Tghaqqadna’ (The Change That Unites Us). If it were an English language newspaper, I would have assumed the presence of a small typo in the fourth word. It is altogether too easy to accidentally type ‘Unites’, when what you really wanted to say was: ‘Unties’.  But there is no equivalent excuse for the Maltese version (unless they intended to say ‘Basla’ instead of ‘Bidla’... but that’s a bit of a stretch).

The only other possibility is that it actually was a reference to those sausages. Let’s face it: statistically speaking, a tin of cocktail sausages has a much better chance of uniting the Nationalist Party than Adrian Delia right now. For it is universally acknowledged that absolutely everyone in the universe likes party sausages... whether they will ever admit to it or not. 

The list of people who don’t like Adrian Delia, on the other hand, will probably give the Telephone Directory a good run for its money. And the people who hate him most happen to be ensconced within the Nationalist Party media (as well as those parts of the independent media which think they are run by the Nationalist Party) i.e, the same people who now tell us that Adrian Delia is the best thing since Derbyshire Canners...

I mean, come on. How stupid do these people think we are? The day before that headline appeared, Adrian Delia formally took over that party’s leadership... and was publicly snubbed by several prominent PN exponents on live TV. Karol Aquilina refused to shake his hand. Jason Azzopardi took off his glasses (note: I wonder whose advice he’s listening to these days?) and challenged Delia’s bodyguards to a fist fight. Chris Said – Delia’s only rival in the final round – has so far refused to confirm whether he will be willing to work with the newly elected leader at all. And outgoing leader Simon Busuttil – who had spent the entire campaign subliminally urging councillors and tesserati not to vote for Delia – made a public display of mistrust by very reluctantly handing over ‘the keys of responsibility’ to his own office.

Even as we speak, the grand total of PN MPs willing to give up their seat for their new leader stands at... zero. And even if any MP does step forward, it will only trigger a casual election. How many unelected PN (or PD) candidates have publicly declared they won’t contest Delia for that seat? Same answer: zero. 

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning all those former Adrian Delia critics who have suddenly changed their tune: you know, the ones who spent weeks threatening to quit the party if Delia won... but who now (i.e., after Delia did, in fact, win) tell us things like: ‘Oh, I don’t know... he gave good answers when interviewed by Peppi on the Fosos’, and all that. Well, they’re all being meticulously dismembered by the same blog that (consciously or otherwise) has dictated the PN’s entire media agenda for the past four years at least. Which also means that... even if there is a reconciliation effort after all this unnecessary conflict and acrimony; even if all Delia’s internal opponents decide to rally round their new leader in spite of everything... there will be a much fiercer, more indefatigable effort to keep that gaping wound as wide open as possible.

So not only has this leadership election left the PN more divided than ever before... but it’s the sort of division that will simply never be allowed to heal. 

Then there’s the small matter of the PN media’s outrageous (but OUTRAGEOUS) hypocrisy in these proceedings. Naturally, the same Nazzjon line – ‘time for unity’ – is now being plugged by the PN’s television station, NET TV. Today, NET journalists simper over Adrian Delia in fawning (and equally puke-inducing) celebrity interviews. I just watched one in which the interviewer described Adrian Delia as some kind of mountain-climbing folk hero who likes his spaghetti with pepperoncino. Oh, and his favourite rock band is Aerosmith.

I found that a wee bit strange myself... seeing as, until yesterday, NET News had paid considerably more attention to Delia’s undeclared Jersey account, and his links to prostitution rackets run by Soho Mafiosi... not to mention the millions he owes in apparently unpayable debt... than to his taste in either Italian cuisine or American rock and roll.  

And this, by the way, is the same NET TV that failed to send a correspondent to cover Delia’s defiant press conference, after the unanimous vote of censure against him by the PN executive council two weeks ago. Yes, you read right... a station that managed to infiltrate a German brothel (to investigate a political scandal involving prostitution, please note. Oh, the irony!) somehow found it impossible to send a single journalist down a single flight of stairs... to find out what was happening right outside its own offices in Pieta’. 

Ah, but that’s all forgiven and forgotten now, right? From one second to the next, just like that....

 ‘The Change that Unites Us’, indeed. It reminds me of the classic illustrations of Julius Caesar in school history books: surrounded by armies of ‘friends’ who all hold daggers behind their backs. If the PN under Adrian Delia is a ‘united party’... then Syria under Assad is a ‘united country’. Not since the days of ‘Mintoff versus Alfred Sant’ have I seen a political party so viscerally and irreconcilably divided.

But a party newspaper and/or TV station that presents us with a ludicrously distorted (and utterly unrecognisable) version of the facts? Or a story which wildly contradicts the same paper’s editorial line, expressed just the day before? Oh, that’s something we see all the time. 

For instance: I have a distinct memory of a remarkably similar ONE TV news bulletin at the time of the Labour leadership election in 2008. The strapline was ‘Tellieqa Bejn Hbieb’ (‘A Race Between Friends’). The contestants were Joseph Muscat, George Abela, Evarist Bartolo and Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

OK, I’ll grant you that the level of public venom displayed in that contest was conspicuously less than what we’ve seen in the past few weeks. But still: a ‘race between friends’? As I recall, Joseph Muscat spent the first few months of his time as newly-elected leader trying to stave off an open revolt. Evarist Bartolo was threatening to quit the party. George Abela stormed off in a huff (never to return). It seems a long time ago now, but the question being asked at the time was whether Muscat would even manage to keep such a divided party together... let alone turn it into an election winning machine. 

If that’s how ONE TV defines ‘friendship’, I shudder to imagine what it would consider a ‘race between enemies’. One in which the contestants throw sulphuric acid in each other’s faces, perhaps...

So all things considered, I suppose we can all draw at least a little consolation from the fact that Labour media are no better or worse than their PN equivalents... when it comes to lying through their teeth about the state of their own party. But then again, it’s not exactly very reassuring, is it?

This leaves us with the only question worth asking at this stage. How long can this farcical travesty of journalism possibly be allowed to continue? When will these political media finally realise that there is a limit to how far you can treat your own viewers and readers as a bunch of illiterate, brain-dead morons?

Oh, and one last thing... how many morons does it take to open a tin of cocktail sausages, anyway? There’s one in my kitchen cupboard that I’ve been trying to open for months....