Contradictory messages on the IIP

Donald Trump has popularised the term fake news, using it to criticise unfavourable news in the media

It seems that original sin simply consisted of believing the original fake news
It seems that original sin simply consisted of believing the original fake news

Last Monday an editorial in The Malta Independent called for the scrapping of the Individual Investor Programme, otherwise popularly known in Malta as the passport sale scheme. The newspaper’s only motivation for its stand was simply because it is a “hair [sic] brained scheme that shamed us in Europe” since “our reputation and our identity are not for sale.”

The newspaper also complained that we “have not seen a single cent spent from the millions collected on social projects so far.”

On Wednesday the same newspaper reported that when giving an answer to a Parliamentary question made by Simon Busuttil, the Prime Minister had said that up to December 2017, €363,245,398 from the IIP scheme were deposited into the National Development and Social Fund.

What is even more interesting is that according to the blog of Premier Offshore Tax & Corporate Inc., a company that descibes itself as a leader in international consulting, planning and incorporation services for offshore investors, entrepreneurs, asset protection, and US retirement accounts, Malta was among the 10 best ‘Second Passports and Citizenship by Investment Programs’ for 2016.

The list – in order of ‘merit’ – is Bulgaria, Santa Lucia, Malta, Cyprus, Austria, Russia, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis and Grenada.

By using the term “fake news” to describe any form of negative media coverage, Trump has helped countries explain away atrocities and human rights abuses

Interestingly, among these ten countries there are four EU member states: Bulgaria, Malta, Cyprus and Austria.

Why Malta’s is a hare-brained scheme that shames us in Europe is not clear, when in fact it so happens that Malta’s scheme is, as I understand, the only one approved by the EU.

This does not mean that the scheme works to perfection – my gripe is that when one considers who was given a Maltese passport under this scheme, it does seem that the due diligence carried out did not weed out some shady characters.

This week, we also got the news that following a decision taken by the EU finance ministers meeting in Brussels, the EU removed eight of the 17 jurisdictions listed in December as tax havens. Panama, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Barbados, Grenada, Macao, Mongolia and Tunisia were taken off the list, while American Samoa, Bahrain, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Namibia, Palau, Saint Lucia, Samoa, and Trinidad-Tobago remained.

There was a backlash to this decision. German MEP Markus Feber, who is vice-chair of the economic committee of the European Parliament, called the decision “laughable”. The EU Commission explained, however, that the countries that were delisted had shown signs of agreeing to EU standards on tax transparency.

If you find all this confusing, it is because the European Parliament – or its particularly vociferous members – is not the be-all and end-all in the EU set-up, as many in Malta have been led to believe.

The number of times initiatives originating from the European Parliament were described by the media as originating from the European Union itself is now beyond counting. Committees and delegations of the European Parliament are consistently described as European Union committees and delegations.

I wonder whether this is a case of the media purposely confusing people or a case of the media people themselves being confused about how things work in the EU.

Obviously the three PN MEPs are very capable of persuading others to agree with them and adopt their viewpoint. This is, of course, big kudos for them. On the other hand, the government side whose ministers partcipate directly in the EU decision-taking process seems to have been let down by the three Labour MEPs.

All this is leading to contradictory messages, but on the social media, contradictions do not bother anyone. Whether one agrees with something or not just depends on the colour of the political party that one supports... or shall I say opposes?

The original fake news

A recent article by Adam Gabbatt in The Guardian argues that since taking office, Donald Trump has popularised the term fake news, using it to criticise unfavourable news in the media. The term has also been borrowed by political leaders all over the world – particularly those in charge of an authoritarian regime.

By using the term “fake news” to describe any form of negative media coverage, Trump has helped countries explain away atrocities and human rights abuses:

• Venezuela’s President Madura insists his country is being exposed to bullying by the world media besieging it and spreading lots of false versions, lots of lies. “This is what we call ‘fake news’ today, isn’t it?” Maduro told a Russian broadcaster.

• According to Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, “You can forge anything these days. We are living in a fake news era.”

• A Myanamar official was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news.”

• The Chinese government used the term to dispute claims by a Chinese rights activist that police had tortured another activist; with the Xinhua news agency saying in an English-language article: “The stories are essentially fake news.”

• Hundreds of people were injured in Catalonia in October, when Spanish police raided polling stations in an attempt to prevent Catalonia’s independence referendum from taking place. When videos showed police kicking people attempting to vote and striking them with batons the Spanish Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, reacted by saying: “I am not saying that all are fake pictures, but some of them are and there have been a lot of alternative facts and fake news.”

• Russia rejected claims of links to Donald Trump’s electoral campaign as “fake news”.

Now, in a major document about the phenomenon of fake news released on Wednesday, Pope Francis wrote that the serpent in the Garden of Eden hissed the first fake news to Eve and it all went downhill from there. “We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place,” the Pope wrote in a message ahead of what the Church has designated as its World Day of Social Communications, in May.

The Pope argued that the “crafty” serpent’s effective disinformation campaign to get Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge “began the tragic history of human sin.”

It seems that original sin simply consisted of believing the original fake news.

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