That’s no way to treat journalists, Simon

Simon Busuttil’s new confrontational attitude was completely misplaced at his latest press conference. He was acting as if everyone in that room who did not work for Media.Link was public enemy number one

‘The least one would expect from the Leader of the Opposition, especially when he is constantly jumping on the soap box of self-righteousness, is that he treats people from the media with a modicum of respect.’ Photo: Ray Attard
‘The least one would expect from the Leader of the Opposition, especially when he is constantly jumping on the soap box of self-righteousness, is that he treats people from the media with a modicum of respect.’ Photo: Ray Attard

With all the daily twists and turns of the Mallia-driver-shooting-incident, I wonder if we will ever know the full facts of this tangled cobweb of a story.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m finding it rather difficult to wade through all the different versions each media house keeps throwing at us, what with all these leakages of transcripts of telephone conversations and who was talking to whom at what time, whether the people involved knew each other prior to the shooting, and who said what and when. Hopefully, this week we will know the truth.

Or, to quote Simon Busuttil during his press conference on Saturday, “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.

I found it interesting that he used that particular famous quote, because if there is one thing which is “true”, it is that the TV camera does not lie.

I caught the last bit of his press conference on the car radio during which I could sense an underlying, shall we say, abruptness, towards the One TV journalists. But it was only when I finally managed to view the footage of the actual televised version that the extent of his animosity could be clearly felt.

I could practically see the frost in the air when he snubbed the first (very young) journalist, telling her she should not ask such a question. Excuse me, but since when does a politician dictate what can or cannot be asked?

Then, when it was Janice Bartolo’s turn (“I know who you are,” he said snidely after she introduced herself); the atmosphere practically plunged to Siberian levels. Just as she was about to ask her second question, he dismissed her with the coldness of a high-handed emperor, “I answered you Janice” and her mic was switched off giving the chance for the Media.Link reporter to butt in with his question. This bit was lost on the radio, but when I saw the TV version, the camera was still on her obviously asking a question although she could not be heard.

Now, of course, journalists who work for the two political party stations don’t work under the most pleasant conditions especially when they are sent to pester and doorstep and heckle “the other side”. It cannot be easy to always be at the receiving end of politicians who visibly groan as they see you coming, armed with your microphone and set of annoying partisan questions as you try to ambush them into a sound bite for the evening news.

But the least one would expect from the Leader of the Opposition (especially when he is constantly jumping on the soap box of self-righteousness) is that he treats people from the media with a modicum of respect.  Actually, I would say that coming from him in particular, when he has been going around lately sounding like a Southern Baptist preacher, extolling the virtues of correct behaviour, his own behaviour towards these two reporters was unbelievably rude.

The rudeness and snarky tone continued towards the reporters from MaltaToday as well as PBS, with Simon lecturing them on what they should and should not be asking and berating them for not doing their jobs well.

It is never, ever a good idea for a politician to act like this towards the press.  Whether they are doing a good or bad job is up to the public to decide, but I find it very mean-spirited of someone in Simon Busuttil’s position to pick on members of the media in this very public way.  (Alfred Sant used to do this kind of thing towards the people from Where’s Everybody? and we all know how far that kind of open hostility got him.)

No matter what his own private views are, the One TV journalists were there doing their jobs and he took the opportunity to make them feel the brunt of his utter, undisguised contempt for the media house they represent.

I’m getting the feeling that in his desire to portray himself as more forceful and “in charge” he has decided to leave behind his good manners altogether, and instead embrace this new, “improved” more aggressive image. No more Mr Nice Guy.

This change of tactic might appeal to his hardcore supporters who keep egging him on and it’s true that there are those who are very, very pleased that “the gloves have come off”. In fact, I can see where this more hardline approach would work well in debates with Muscat and in Parliament.

However, I think this new confrontational attitude was completely misplaced at that press conference. He was acting as if everyone in that room who did not work for Media.Link was public enemy number one, even though he remembered to thank “the independent media” for doing their part in exposing the details of the Mallia story.

Obviously, as the Labour-owned station, One TV is always going to be more critical of the PN, but a savvy politician should be able to let that knowledge slide, because “unfriendly media” come with the territory. And while that haughty glacial expression and voice dripping with scorn and sarcasm might have scored a few points back at Stamperija HQ, what viewers saw was an aspect of Simon Busuttil’s character which is highly unpleasant.

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