'Let's be positive'

The media is not and should not be a platform for good news. The only media that pronounce the good news as if it were Christmas everyday are l-Orrizont and In-Nazzjon

Opposition whip, and PN deputy leader contender David Agius
Opposition whip, and PN deputy leader contender David Agius

Last Friday I held a meeting with the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Nils Muižnieks who took time off from his planned agenda to meet the Maltese press and discuss press freedom.

His visit, of course, will be remembered for his comment that the human rights of women are intrinsically linked to women’s access to reproductive rights and abortion. Now that surely set some sparks flying around, including from those who consider Malta to be no different from Panama, at least when it comes to banning abortion.

It was a very poorly attended meeting and off the record. But I made it a point to purposely attend the meeting to explain the issue of press freedom and threats to journalists in Malta were conveniently being lost in translation, hyperbole and political spin.

“Yes, we have problems and we have an uphill battle, but this is not endemic to Malta. Maltese journalists are not aggressive enough and are simply used to copy and paste stories. Most are not engaged in investigative journalism.”

I insisted that the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia cannot be the only reference point for the debate on press freedom in Malta. “Caruana Galizia’s greatest strength was repeating gossip and pasting what was sent to her without verification – she is best known abroad for the Panama Papers, but locally she was known for a venomous pen. The bulk of her work was gossip and deriding anyone who was a political foe of the Nationalist party.”

I explained that that was fine by me, but let us not, for one moment, equate journalism with such an approach. “Our biggest threat as the Maltese media is our financial sustainability and our dwindling audience who are caught up in Facebook algorithms rather than searching for real news and who have been abandoning us – hence their interest in gossip and slander.”

I also said that in most European Union states, Caruana Galizia would not have endured under the pressure of defamation laws and the weight of the financial liability incurred. “She would not have been able to wound so many people with fake accusations and personal abuse. She was allowed to do this simply because everyone was scared and because we are tolerant… after all. Do not get me wrong, what happened was wrong, shocking and reprehensible. But if we are to debate this subject we must allow some time to pass, to see things in the right perspective.”

I said that the real journalist who investigates a story, verifies the story and seeks comments that are few and far in-between and sadly most ‘journalists’ move on to other pastures at a very young age, abandoning journalism for more lucrative jobs.

Muižnieks was, of course, aware as we spoke, of what the PANA committee had said about Malta in its report: namely that the Maltese media is very politicised. Now that is a gross understatement.

Which brings me to the issue of being more inquisitive and irreverent. This week, of all people, Nationalist MP David Agius accused the media of not being positive enough on Xtra on TVM.

OK. Listen to this ‘positive’ news.

Traffic management in Malta is improving: there are more interventions at roundabouts, the flow has improved slightly, the works at Kappara are being efficiently managed, works on the Marsa traffic system will start tomorrow. We now have a traffic control centre and we are looking at a massive investment of €700 million in roadworks under a new authority. Added to this, we have the electric vehicles incentive and guess what? Public transport buses are carrying a record number of passengers and registering a 94% efficiency.

Phew! All this is very true and commendable and if it weren’t for the crass hypocrisy of the Maltese drivers who love their cars more than their spouses and who are unwilling to make sacrifices, the situation would be far, far better.

However, if I did repeat this, I am sure that David Agius or some other goon from the opposition would accuse me of being a puppet in the hands of the administration.

Of all people, David Agius should have kept his big mouth shut. He knows very well what I am talking about. For years he was Simon Busuttil’s acolyte, accompanying him on his morning walks as some fitness side-kick. In those months he assisted in the political discourse of Busuttil, which painted Malta and the institutions with a backdrop from the Middle Ages. Busuttil saw nothing positive, and worse still, built all his strategy around the commentary of Caruana Galizia.

Now David Agius is firmly in place next to Delia and he wants us, as the media, to promote the good news, whatever that is or could be, including the fact that the past history of Adrian Delia is irrelevant as are his links to certain businesses or the allegations that were written about him in Caruana Galizia’s blog and in MaltaToday.

Truth is that the media is not and should not be a platform for good news. The only media that pronounce the good news as if it were Christmas every day are L-Orrizont and In-Nazzjon. The former when there is a Labour government and the latter when there is a Nationalist administration.

The issue here is not ‘media freedom’ but getting our act together and being precise in our stories, as well as putting stories into context and correcting misconceptions and lies. After having met so many reckless and inaccurate foreign journalists, I appreciate that our task is not that easy, but it is not impossible.

Most newspapers are more interested in promoting an agenda. And there are one or two journalists with the so-called independent press that are instinctively seen in a bad light because of their political bias, which is exemplified by their style of writing.

The fault lies with the editors for not taking a stand and correcting them. We also need to urge our readers to be more discerning, demanding and ruthless in their demands for accuracy.

We must embrace impartiality against bias. We need to make the fourth estate relevant to Malta – and that comes with upholding the values of this trade, rules that are learnt and applied