Look! Up there, in the sky…

Ever wondered why Stan Lee conceived Peter Parker as an undercover photojournalist? My own guess is that there has always been a rather visible revolving door between journalism and certain other career paths that also involve 'power'

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Why, no… it’s ‘Super-Peregin’, of course! Swooping down from the heavens above, to use his special, superhuman powers for the Greater Good of All Mankind (and just in time to single-handedly rescue Maltese democracy from the jaws of dictatorship, too! All together now: ‘Hooray!’) 

Hmmm. I don’t know: are all millennials quite as over-enthusiastic as that, I wonder? Or are we dealing with an exceptional specimen here…? 

But in case you were wondering: I’m talking about the grand announcement made by Christian Peregin last Wednesday: when he solemnly informed the Universe – and in such dramatic tones, too – that he would be… um… leaving a career in journalism, to take up a consultancy position within a political party. 

Because that, ultimately, is what actually happened. The way he announced it, though: ‘I am moving on, and this why’; ‘I feel like my mission is complete and I am ready to dedicate my time to try and solve a new problem…’…  

Honestly: what does he think this is? An episode of ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation’? ‘To boldly go, where no man has ever gone before…?’ 

If so: well, I hate to break this to him, but… Peregin’s ‘bold’ career move hardly constitutes the first (or even most noteworthy) time that a journalist has jumped ship in a self-styled mission to ‘save the world’, you know.  

Take Superman, for instance. If you’ll remember, Clark Kent was a journalist, too. He worked for a newspaper called The Daily Planet. But whenever danger drew near, you could rest assured that the mild-mannered reporter would simply jump into the nearest phone-booth, put on a bright blue leotard, and… hey presto! 

Journalist no longer. It’s ‘superhero’ from now on, thank you very much…  

See? Nothing new. And the same, by the way, could be said for Spiderman. Ever paused to wonder why the late, great Stan Lee also conceived Peter Parker as an undercover photo-journalist: this time, for a fictitious newspaper named ‘The Daily Bugle’…? 

Well, my own guess – for what it’s worth – is that there has always been a rather visible ‘revolving door’ between journalism, and certain other career paths that also involve ‘power’. Like… erm… politics, for instance… 

And you don’t exactly need to read comic-books to find other examples, either. In my own career in Maltese journalism, I have quite literally lost count of the colleagues I’ve known, or worked with, who did more or less exactly what Christian Peregin so boldly did this week.  

That is to say, they likewise simply upped and left their media organisations, from one day to the next, to find jobs within political structures (mostly, as communications officers for Cabinet ministers). 

And guess what? In most – if not all – of those cases… hey presto! They all simply disappeared, just like that, in a puff of party-propaganda: never to be seen or heard of again (which is not to say that they won’t all be hard at work, mind you – mostly, sending out angry emails to the newspapers they once worked for, or demanding ‘right-of-reply’, etc.)  

But… all of them, without exception, simply lost what little presence they may have had before, in the arena of public opinion. And personally, I’ve always seen that as a great loss for Maltese journalism, myself; as well as, of course, a huge gain for… well… absolutely no one, really. (No, not even the political parties: for let’s face it, they don’t actually make any proper use of those people’s talents, do they?)  

And I’ve always said so, too. ‘Think it through carefully, laddie,’ I would say, on those rare occasions when I was approached for advice. ‘You might end up realising that you actually had far more power – of your own – back in the days when you worked for an independent media house… instead of something as self-serving as a political party, or government…’ 

The only difference, in this case, is that I might also add: “Oh, and all this is particularly true, if your stated intention also happens to be: to prevent Malta from becoming a one-party state, by rebuilding the Nationalist Party into a serious, credible alternative government….” 

For again: Christian Peregin is not, at the end of the day, even the first former journalist to actually try and achieve that very goal. That honour would have to go to former Times news editor Caroline Muscat; and… well… we all saw how that turned out, in the end. 

To be fair to Caroline, it probably (almost certainly, in fact) wasn’t her own fault… and that, by the way, is the whole point of the superhero analogy to begin with: you really do need to have ‘super powers’, to succeed in this particular department… 

… but whatever changes she tried to effect in that party, clearly did not work out in practice.  Not only did the PN go on to suffer its worst-ever electoral defeat in 2017; but it also subsequently dismembered itself into irreconcilable warring factions… resulting in a situation that is infinitely worse today, than when Caroline Muscat took over in 2016.  

So… what sort of ‘super powers’ does Peregin even think he has, to believe that his mere input, alone, might actually make so much as even the tiniest little difference…? 

Reason I ask is because: well, reading through his statement again, it doesn’t look as though what Christian Peregin’s proposing is substantially very different from the existing status quo (even if, bizarrely, he claims his intention is to challenge it…) 

Consider just his reasons for choosing the PN (and not, say, founding a new party of his own; or joining one of Malta’s many fledgling political movements, etc): “As much as I support the efforts of the smaller parties, we need to be honest in our assessment and realise that it is only the PN that has a fighting chance to grow into an alternative government, since it already enjoys 30% of the country’s support…”  

Translation: the PN is the only party capable conceivably of forming a government… on its own. That is to say, singlehandedly occupying 50%+1 of the House of Representatives… to de facto become the equivalent of Malta’s next ‘one party state’, for the next five years… 

If successful, then, Peregin’s vision would only take us all the way back to the 1980s – when there really were only two parties on the ballot sheet (AD only came onto the scene in 1992) – and, while I’m the first to concede that ‘two’ is probably better than ‘one’, in this particular scenario… well, it’s still the same old ‘two-party system’ that got us into this whole mess to begin with. 

Not much of a solution to Malta’s ‘democratic deficit’, is it now?  

Moreover, it doesn’t even constitute much of a foundation on which to actually ‘rebuild’ the PN from a ‘shadow of its former self’.  

There was a reason why the PN used to be ‘its ‘former self’, you know: i.e., an unstoppable, election-winning machine. Actually, Peregin explains it himself: “despite a proud history, [the PN] in many ways stopped being relevant after EU membership because it had fulfilled the purpose that had driven it since the late 1970s.” 

He is, of course, perfectly right: but what that also means, to me, is that the rebuilding process would have to begin by restoring what has been lost since (roughly) 2004: a political ‘raison-d’etre’ for the PN. 

Eddie Fenech Adami understood this well… which is why, throughout his 25-year leadership, the PN never lacked a core vision, or target, that always somehow lay agonisingly ‘out-of-reach’. He also saw to it (correctly, most of the time) that the Labour Party would end up being perceived as a force trying to prevent this ‘spectacular vision’ – be it EU membership, or ‘Xogħol, Gustizzja, Libertà’ - that his own party was trying to bring about for Malta. 

Those are compelling reasons to vote for a party: even when that party might not actually represent your views on all other matters... 

And yet, the only reason Peregin gives, for expecting people to actually support him in his bid to ‘rebuild the PN’, is that… um… otherwise, Labour will remain in power indefinitely. In other words: ‘Vote for Us, because we’re not Them…’ 

Sorry, but: what, exactly, is the difference between that, and the same ‘status quo’ that it is supposedly trying to ‘challenge’? 

Leaving aside, of course, all the ‘kryptonite’ that Super-Peregin will soon find himself having to contend with… especially when it comes to dealing with all the people himself he has written so much about, in recent years. 

Something tells me that this is precisely where his powers will be tested to their utmost limit. Having already openly picked sides in that conflict himself, in his former career as a journalist – no doubt, everything he ever once wrote about Adrian Delia will be tomorrow’s headline news on One TV – he might find it just slightly difficult to reach out across that divide.  

And yet it is precisely there, on the other side of the frontier, that most of the PN’s lost 20+% support actually lies (still licking their wounds, and – let’s face it – unlikely to be over-impressed, by what they no doubt perceive as ‘just another blue-eyed little whippersnapper’: simply waltzing in out of nowhere, to solve all their problems with a wave of his magic wand….) 

But hey! Far be it from me, to discourage such unbridled ambition in a younger (now former) colleague. And naturally, I hope he does succeed, too. After all, it’s not every day that you get to report about lone individuals, who single-handedly rescue entire democracies, through the force of their sheer exuberance alone…  

…and let’s face it: it would make a pleasant change, after reporting all those COVID-19 figures…