Journalists who turn themselves into the story

The Maltese want authentic civic action that is not vitiated by partisan allegiances. If Delia thinks he is that knight in shining armour, he certainly got the message told to him loud and clear.

Threats are not something one should ever take lightly. 

But looking back over the last 35 years in journalism, those that actually carry out a threat certainly never send out messages nor give advance warning of their intentions. As we all know, threats against people are carried out not under the gaze of the public eye but secretively. When they strike, it happens without prior warning. 

Still, when blogger Manuel Delia announced via the report of an Italian website that he was leaving the country to escape the threats that he faced (with even The Times of London declaring that he was forced to flee the island) what naturally followed was apprehension and concern for the safety of the former political aide to Nationalist minister Austin Gatt turned journalist and anti-corruption activist. What sort of threat could have warranted such a radical decision to up sticks and leave the island? 

Those who know Manuel Delia from his time as a political apparatchik and later Nationalist candidate for parliament, know to what extent he could seek public attention, but they bit their tongue and kept their thoughts to themselves. In the toxic environment of radicalised partisanship, contradicting a certain narrative can turn into a social media backlash that becomes tiresome and frankly, not worth the effort. But also, to contradict someone so outspoken in the condemnation of the State’s role in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, would not be on. 

We were all rooting for Delia then, until a fellow colleague in spirit, Caroline Muscat, a former PN campaign head who later founded the news website The Shift, hit out at Delia with some journalism of hers: she revealed that Delia had been offered a six-month, paid stay abroad (to make it clear, it is a safe-house financed by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom), for him to work without any worry for his safety back home. She also volunteered that Delia, whose spirited work is financed in part by his wife’s support, was also paid something by Repubblika, the civic action NGO. 

For those who cringe at Delia’s over-performativeness and sense of self-importance, Muscat’s denunciation was music to their ears. Delia defended himself, saying the election heat could turn ugly on him and his family, with the spoofing of his website appearing as a shot across the bow. 

But many made up their mind already, thinking that Delia was just yet another flamboyant attention-seeker who loves doing media. Caroline Muscat, who turned down the ECPMF programme that was offered to Delia, was her vintage self, a tad irked that someone whose claim to being an investigative journalist will never match up to her prowess, was trying to shine a bit too much. 

They do put things into perspective, such feuds. Coming from those whose use of journalism is often used to pontificate, and as a vehicle for self-aggrandisement, it makes one think about all the other journalists in Malta who only seem intent on doing the story, leaving themselves out of the equation... because they are never the story. 

To someone like Delia and his ardent supporters, anybody who has ever criticised Daphne Caruana Galizia has blood on their hands. That kind of attitude, so manifestly evident among a commentariat that is intrinsically anti-Labour, has left the majority of the island quite unaffected. The majority of the Maltese public knows that, even if they disliked the kind of gossip and personal attacks that undermined the otherwise valuable investigations carried out by Caruana Galizia, they are not ‘guilty’ of what led to her assassination. When these people defend themselves against abusive commentary they had to endure simply because of some association they had with Labour, does not mean they are enemies of the press or indirectly abetting the mafia. 

Well, that’s how Manuel Delia indeed framed it when, for example, he attacked our staff member Raphael Vassallo, a journalist so unconnected to Labour or any form of partisan establishment. And while his defamatory statements are being challenged in court in a libel case, this newspaper did not attempt to play down Delia’s claims of being threatened. 

So here we are now: a journalist who is trying to erase the memory of his years as an Austin Gatt lackey and his destruction of a functioning (if imperfect) public transport system in favour of privatisation (no qualms in posing with George Fenech when he was financing the Arriva interest in Malta); or how in the time of the Enemalta oil scandal, the Nationalist administration at the time ensured that PBS’s daytime TV show, then anchored by former Net TV journalist Pierre Portelli, would not mention one thing about the oil scandal the day after it broke in the Sunday press. Castille rule was ok back then. It was ok to be silent about corruption “until proven guilty” back then (well of course, he was after all a candidate for parliament in 2013). 

And who should come to his defence but the lawyer Georg Sapiano, himself a beneficiary of a few direct orders from the Nationalist administration, among them contracts connected to the Arriva fiasco itself? Sure, it was ok to lend his pen to ghost-write a column for Sapiano’s legal firm partner Adrian Delia when he decided to run for election, at a fee naturally. 

To me at least, it all looks like one big joke, just like those American preachers who use their charisma to pull the wool over the eyes of the gullible. It makes me puke. But who am I to tell people whose word they want to heed? They might know all about Delia and who he served in the past, but it will not matter one iota when Delia can very well verbalise their distrust and dislike of the Labour Party. That is the free market of ideas. 

But it does show us the limitations of people like Delia and perhaps even Repubblika, in being able to represent Maltese society, because their allegiances are ultimately partisan; and they fail to appreciate the nuance of those who today can see Caruana Galizia as the heroine killed for her anti-corruption crusade, but harbour mistrust for the way she used journalism to punch down on those powerless to answer back. 

The Maltese want authentic civic action that is not vitiated by partisan allegiances. If Delia thinks he is that knight in shining armour, he certainly got the message told to him loud and clear.