What will Bernard Grech bring to the table?

Lawyer Bernard Grech emerged as a possible contender for the leadership of the Nationalist Party on Saturday

The lawyer Bernard Grech has expressed interest in standing for PN leader.

I must say that I found Grech’s reply to a question posed to him by Fr Joe Borg during a radio interview on the Catholic archdiocese’s station to be quite refreshing. For some reason, Borg opted to challenge Grech on the latter’s insistence that MPs should be reflecting the wishes of the party grassroots. Specifically, Borg put the following question to Grech: “But if people tell you they ‘want abortion’ do you just go ahead with that?”

One would have expected Grech to mirror every single politician on the island, and solemnly declare that abortion would be an absolute no-go. Therese Comodini Cachia hammered that nail in early, after the abortion bogeyman reared its head when she was nominated for Opposition leader.

Instead Grech told the priest: “We’re talking about principles, and abortion is one such principle that has to be discussed. If people say they ‘want abortion’, you are obliged to discuss it. You don’t just decide, or let others decide for you; however, you are obliged to discuss it – and issue a position on what people think… Back in the day the Church felt it had the key to the truth. Out there, people think differently: we have to recognise that reality.”

I have no doubt that Grech is certainly not pro-choice, but his reply scored a high magnitude on the PN’s Richter scale. For someone whose past anti-divorce role labelled him as a conservative, this finally felt like a long-overdue whiff of authenticity. Indeed, it was just the right approach in a political climate where all the politicians are speaking the same language.

So while the centrist Grech spoke on Church radio, Adrian Delia appeared on Xejk TV, a channel serving as a platform for fringe politicians, religious extremists and wannabe journalists. He was interviewed by the University of Malta academic Simon Mercieca, a critic of so called ‘Marxist culture’, and the priest David Muscat, a friend of Nazi apologist Norman Lowell who subsumes his anti-immigrant rants in long-winded religious claptrap and flirts openly with Lowell’s bosom-buddies. Honestly, it’s a comedy duo match-up made in right-wing heaven.

Still, for my sins I submitted myself to 90 minutes of Delia trying to portray himself as some cultural Catholic of sorts, with his shining moment coming with his take on immigration, the economy, the equality Bill, and even a historical analysis of his Catholic roots. Among the proffered gems one could find: “The government has invited foreigners through their agents India, Bangladesh and the Philippines… to import them as precarious workers” – or this: “I feel God is with me. I wake up every day with so much energy. They tried to discourage me, but I make the sign of the cross before giving some speech, before any parliamentary group meeting…” – and his tribute to St Helen’s proselytising power on pagans.

The most pathetic arguments of the bunch, however, were his excuses for hanging on as leader.

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Earlier this week, in a conversation with MaltaToday’s executive editor Matthew Vella, we were going over past stories and present information dealing with individuals whose links with criminality often demand a certain caution prior to publication.

It is no secret that what we have come to learn following the arrest of Yorgen Fenech has been chilling for certain media organisations, especially given the fear that elements inside the police force – some whom people felt were ‘trusted’ – may have been compromised, not just by criminals themselves, but also by an intrinsic environment of ineptness, political tribalism, and even lack of ambition to deliver justice.

The discussion we had fell on the need of putting in place effective measures of protection when journalists face serious threats.

MaltaToday is not immune to threats – very often it could be a barrage of angry words on the phone, but people with nothing to lose are wont to present themselves at the door, waiting for journalists to arrive, accosting them as they park their car… I can say that I have had countless dealings with people of all sorts, and it takes quite a thick skin to weather these confrontations.

Not everyone in the press is, of course, made of the same stock.

Without deterrence, the culture of impunity is here to stay. And making things worse is silence. Few readers might know how many journalists feel unsupported when people make threats or demand to know why they are being written about (when they would clearly have been thrust onto the public sphere only due to some wrongdoing on their end) – some journalists do not even tell their relatives when they have to face down criminal types demanding ‘face time’.

Unlike MPs, we journalists are not protected in the discharge of our duties “while on the way to the House” – and clearly, it is time that the fourth estate enjoys a similar degree of protection.

During elections, journalists are in the thick of it, and physical attacks or interference with a journalist can be a likely event. Yet there is no crime in Malta related to attacks on journalists. One country, South Africa, penalises offences against media workers with fines of up to R200,000 (€10,000) and imprisonment, during elections. But the idea should be that the interference, physical or psychological, in an act of journalism or broadcast that is tantamount to cause some form of harm or impediment in the discharge of a journalist’s duties, should be penalised.

It is not just that Maltese journalists need to be protected against cyberharassment, especially with Malta’s failing marketplace of ideas (we have seen it happen here with the publication of ID card numbers on Facebook or the ‘lynching’ of one person by various people piling into them).

In Malta, journalists have had to ignore the harassment – sometimes it comes from other journalists too, but of course, most of it comes from online trolls.

More specifically, journalists need to be protected by a climate of deterrence that identifies actions that menace or harass them as aggravated crimes, specifically addressing the threat of violence or threats that can be proven to reduce journalists’ ability to do what the law permits them to do.

Unfortunately we have little support from the political class. After Caruana Galizia’s murder, no steps were taken to see to the protection of journalists. No one even cared to talk to the editors, to the publishers and owners after 16 October, 2017. We already face an existential challenge because of a drop in revenues; we cannot now be hindered by a climate that makes our daily work a threatening experience.

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