Far-right nutters come aplenty in Malta. Why are they on our TV sofas?

PBS’s inquiry on quality control over Fuhrer-gate should lead to a clear ban on voices who trivialise the Holocaust and insult us by their dearly-held ideas. It is the law

TVM presenter John Demanuele has issued an apology for having promoted the work of author Ronald Bugeja
TVM presenter John Demanuele has issued an apology for having promoted the work of author Ronald Bugeja

The silver lining from PBS’s announced inquiry into its quality control process over Ħajjitna Ktieb, should at least mean one guaranteed outcome: that those who advance ideas that fall foul of Article 82B of the Criminal Code, can never be granted a platform on Television Malta, neither should they – one argues – be reported about, without at least being treated in a critical manner and challenged in the name of that very same law.

82B carries a prison conviction for whoever denies, condones or “grossly trivialises” genocide – read, the Holocaust – but also crimes against humanity and war crimes if this is carried out in a manner that is “likely” to incite to hatred or if it is “threatening, abusive or insulting.”

For PBS to be truly accountable, in a standard that must also apply to any television station, it will have to revisit the lax manner in which so many ‘harmless’ members of the Maltese far-right and reactionary phalanx keep featuring on our television channels.

It has now become the heaviest of burdens, in much of Maltese television as as in this island’s public life, to deal with the mediocrity with which we have comforted ourselves for ages, like the unwillingness to sit too close to uncomfortable truths, or have our dearly held views challenged, or worse still, made fun of.

Indeed, it stands to reason how artists, musicians and writers in Malta have repeatedly been spat out by the front rows of the establishment for lampooning the high and mighty. Yet a chimp’s tea party of history buffs, party hacks, and rent-a-gun TV panellists get to take centre-stage if they can provide enough entertainment and belly laughs for the audiences back home.

It was this way after all far-right cabaret acts like Holocaust-denier Norman Lowell entered Maltese television – specifically One TV back in the day, which welcomed him to a comfortable sofa for a 6pm evening slot of chit-chat; and then again on Obelisk, treated kindly as a clown with a hard-on for that other clown, Carmelo Borg Pisani (a fascist loser who still hogs Maltese history more than he might ever deserve).

By the time Lowell won the race to become the European election’s bogeyman, his TV platform had long been guaranteed, having been propelled to that lower register of political nutters – a half-time act for the laughs, inconsequential only until the supporters start nodding their heads and asking for more.

What’s wrong in hosting someone like him if it was up to audiences to make up their mind? goes the fickle excuse of TV owners. Out goes a tradition of editorialising, where TV and newspaper editors assume for themselves the all-important role of mediating for their audiences the ideas imparted unto them. In come the questions dipped in a tepid pot of tea, such as this F-Living ‘Hitler-fest’, in which Lowell was given free rein for an unhindered eulogy to Nazi Germany and the mercy killing of disabled human beings.

Nowhere has our poor appreciation of history and respect for universalist human rights been felt than in this arena of television entertainment, where even far-right traditionalist clerics like David Muscat get their invitation (Xarabank, naturally enough) to spew whatever they fancy.

And then there is John Demanuele’s tone-deaf apology for Ħajjitna Ktieb – a sort of box-ticking exercise for a nuisance category of P.C. whiners as it were – which again reflects our failure to take responsibility for our ignorance; or the problematic manner in which we treat ‘harmless’ far-right nonsense.

Ultimately, it is the failure of fascism in Malta, and the far-right tropes of plodders like Ronald Bugeja, or boisterous voices like David Muscat and the many iterations of the far-right, that need seeing to. Like some old, beaten-up paraffin heater sucking up the winter air, the Maltese far-right is seasonal, but consistent. It is obsessed with a hatred of foreigners, diversity and liberalism, apologises without a single coyness for Nazism and Hitler, yet these reactionary voices have found zero political traction. Even when attempting to weaponise anti-vax sceptics, they remain at their very nature incompetent bumblers: shouty ‘pro-family’ men like Partit Popolari who dislike feminism and denounce abortion rights, incel-style Catholics like Pro Malta Christiana or evangelist straitjacket types like River of Love and their friends at ABBA, and always prone to internecine schisms.

And since none of it is actually Nazism, it gets simply dismissed as harmless, goes unchallenged, and even invited onto the settees of Maltese television stations. Like some AM radio station nobody tunes into, they keep airing at a lower frequency, but come the European elections, watch the mainstream parties cherry-pick at the far-right’s gripes on foreign workers or humiliate those who support abortion rights.

Soon enough, you start wondering why it is the NGOs and activists, the  press and the newspaper columnists, and academics who are talking a language that respects diversity and equality – and not the mainstream politicians. We are tuned in to different radio stations, obviously.