Not journalism, then what?

Journalism is facing a serious crisis

Saturday is usually a long day. It has been so now for several years. I would say for some 30 years. Since the time, I guess, that I got involved in investigative journalism and learned the principles of journalism, made countless mistakes but did hit bingo several times.

Now there are different forms of journalism: there is churnalism, characterised by the copy and paste of press releases, Gonzo (not my invention) journalism, illustrated by rough and unorthodox reporting, and then there is simply some bad and spiteful journalism.

Besides all this there is also a clear issue about what journalists stand for, or whether they should stand for anything in particular. I guess truth, consistency and fairness are what guide me.  

I have of course to balance that with the situation of being an owner and an editor-in-chief. It is not easy. But I can say hand on heart that I have steered away from influencing my journalists on what should be censored, written or reported. And as an owner and director I know that advertisers do not see it that way.

I respect that, and can understand when people like Caqnu decide to pull the plug and no longer advertise with MaltaToday. But we have to make journalistic decisions, which should be based on the truth and fairness, not on prejudice and obsessions.

What is happening just right now is however very different. Maltese journalism is facing a serious crisis. The first crisis is the fear of being relegated to irrelevance. This has pushed many print and online journalists closer to the ethics of the bile queen. It is in fact no ethics at all, and it hurts to see politicians who refer to her.

There are ethics in journalism and I believe one basic ethic is asking for a comment when an issue is speculative, or unclear. When a report has to be balanced.

Today’s MaltaToday looks at two or rather three major projects in St George’s Bay.   

Last Sunday, The Sunday Times, a competitor by all means, focused on the Seabank Towers. A story is always a story. Needless to say I read the story. But I also searched for something about the two other major projects neighbouring the Seabank proposal.

The rest of the week was peppered with other stories about the Seabank proposal on government land known as the ITS site, and in spite of some clarifications, the story went on.

Well, if MaltaToday had published without clarification, we would have been accused of being cheap, unprofessional and vindictive. But that is what happens when your media house is only 16 years old.

There is no question that converting St George’s Bay (60% of which is public land) into a mega Dubai is of public interest. The question however is why weren’t the same questions about change in use, from hotel and leisure to residential, also put to the other competitors.  

I am sure that failure has nothing to do with the fact that the former editor in chief of The Sunday Times is today a senior aide to the chairman of the Corinthia Group. I am sure Mr Pisani does not approve of such tactics.

Needless to say, neither do I believe it was Anton Camilleri, known as Il-Franciz, who engaged the late Zaha Hadid, a world renowned architect, to design a stunning tower for his Villa Rosa complex, together with offices and residential complexes.

And as I publish today, it is sort of interesting to see that the Seabank owners sort of reneged on one of the competitors in entering with them on the ITS site.  

I am smelling a rat here.

The truth is that The Sunday Times chose not to even remotely mention the other two projects. They are major, they are neighbours, how can you highlight just one, and totally ignore the others?

Let me digress a little.

The three projects put together are all in the love or hate category. You either love them or hate them. I should declare that to me the most beautiful project is the one that is about leaving mother nature as it is, and doing nothing.  

All three projects depend on amendments to the local plan and all three projects use public land in part or in whole and all have not submitted their project officially to the Planning Authority but they have to the Prime Minister.  

To talk of St George’s Bay and the towers, and make no mention at all of what is happening all along the bay smells rather foul.

Which brings me to real journalism.

The Times, and everyone, has an agenda. Even I have an agenda. First to be a permanent pain in the neck and secondly to publish the truth. I also have the courage to accept fault when it is my fault and I know that I am rarely praised when I get it right. I have also on occasion apologised about what I would have written, though what I wrote was correct and was known to be correct.

We all believe that we are entrusted with delivering the news. But more often than not, we do not deliver all the news. Some have the agenda of being selective.

We are very unlike that BBC journalist, who so eloquently reports the uprising of the intifada in the Israeli occupied territories with his flak jacket and lop sided helmet as tear gas rises over his head. He judiciously reports the events, keeps his emotions to himself and shows no resentment at the cruelty meted out by the Israeli forces. He gets the views of the Palestinians and of the Israelis and asks the tough questions to both sides. That is journalism. He does not go on the social media to report his feelings and opinions. 

But this is not the case in most of the recent printed and online journalism in Malta.

Many journalists are simply going with the story, picking selected snippets.

It is clear that spin is the name of the game. 

And I guess the cherry on the cake was when a newspaper and a journalist suggested that the Prime Minister’s beleaguered chief of staff, Keith Schembri, who this time was not asked why he had not resigned, had given a €1.5 million loan to the Labour party.

It now turns out that the loan was indeed made, but not to the Labour Party: it was given to a company in the newspaper’s own group.  

But the part that interests me is that the newspaper chose not to mention this, even though they knew.

Which is why I prefer to be where I am, in the heart of Malta in a media house in San Gwann, with just 16 years of journalism, and not in a newsroom with over 80 years of reportage!

Reference is made to the opinion entitled “By Jove...” carried on page 19 in last Sunday’s MaltaToday. After further clarification about the facts, Malta Today is satisfied that: 

1.      At no stage has Louis Farrugia held any interest in a BVI company; 

2.      The name of the Panamanian Company Petrofina was not chosen by Louis Farrugia but was allocated as an off-the-shelf company 31 years ago. It was never connected to Louis Farrugia’s business interests but rather its sole purpose was to hold title to a London apartment. 

3.      Louis Farrugia’s role at  Allied Newspapers Limited is that of a non-executive Director. He attends board meetings as one of a number of Directors and responds to any call for a meeting, which he did on March 11, the day Adrian Hillman was suspended. That meeting was called by the Company Secretary in line with normal practice. Louis Farrugia did not chair that meeting.

4.     Louis Farrugia did not  hold any overseas offshore interests when he participated in the meeting of the Board of Directors of Allied Newspapers Limited of March 11, and  any implication that this was not the case when he participated in that meeting is incorrect.

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