Numbers never count when arguments fail

This time around, the middle or high officials in agencies and government structures and even private companies are willingly active in a culture of corruption which is protected by a thick patina of omertà

Sunday's MaltaToday survey took a close look at people’s perception and views on noise. The final conclusions in this survey are pretty much in line with what the average John Citizen believes and have absolutely nothing to do with the standpoint of this opinion column. It was the famous British actor, David Niven, who coined the ‘yells, bells and smells’ tagline for Malta and the Maltese. And to date, not much has changed.

It is clear that the vast majority of Maltese have no problem with noise whether it emanates from bars next door to your home, open-air discotheques, petards and fireworks, noisy neighbours and other sources. Which goes to prove that all the moaners are in some distinct cornered minority.

This realisation should not be too hard to swallow. If we had to gauge the number of people who would, for example, be willing to give up their private car for the benefit of having less vehicles on the road and less air pollution, the ones waving the flag of car-pooling or public transport would be surprisingly low, too small to be picked up by any poll.

The same applies with many other issues which are contentious or, better still, based on what most prefer versus what makes sense.

Which brings me, very early on in this short opinion piece, to what many political pundits enjoy stating and repeating: that the media is detached from reality and does not reflect public opinion.

But who, in the seven heavens, ever said that the Maltese media should be a mirror image of society? If we are to be valued and relevant as a media we must be one step ahead of society. We have to be beacons, agenda-setters even when we know that, for example, Maltese society, in general, is in love with noisy petards and has no problems with loud music until four o’clock in the morning. The same applies to so many other issues.

Newspapers in synch with some sort of dumbed-down version of the public might like huge headlines on their front page, and images of smiling glamour girls posing nude on the beach, celebrity gossip and sexy peccadilloes. Surely, this too is in perfect harmony with the heartbeat of society.

This time around, the middle or high officials in agencies and government structures and even private companies are willingly active in a culture of corruption which is protected by a thick patina of omertà

But it is not our role as an independent media house to consider the lowest common denominator of popular approval, as our yardstick. It also pays for us to be sometimes in conflict with popular opinion, with decision-makers, and with those who put their short-term gains and interest ahead of the common and public good.

This is why this newspaper is one of the few that questions constantly the doctrine embraced by nearly everyone, that wants the nation swamped by its construction frenzy – which has been catalysed by only one important criterion, surely clear to all: money.

Which is also why candidates from both parties for the European parliamentary election are hoping to start collecting their first votes by grovelling and appeasing hunters and trappers, rather than party with the environmentalists.

And that is why the argument that the economy is doing well, means that well, all the arguments or complaints that limit this ‘growth’ are sort of unfashionable or undesirable.

Worse still, if a decision in any way impacts on the voting patterns and leaves a dent on one’s popularity then expect your standpoint to be discarded or derided as reactionary and very negative.

The comment I love best, and it’s been around for as long as I have been in journalism is the one that goes, ‘you are harming the country with your writing’.

I recall in the early 1980s when together with so many other activists we staged protests in front of Maltese embassies in some five European countries over the serious impact of the hunting of endangered species (I agree that there were far more pressing problems at the time such as human rights): the reaction then from the Maltese foreign ministry was to label us as “enemies of the state” and to ask the Malta police to see if we should be prosecuted under the Foreign Interference Act (repealed in 1987).

Today some 35 years later the situation is so very different.

The main difference being that everyone who raises a voice is basically ignored, laughed off and designated as being extreme or unrealistic.

There are some very worrying signs that the real problem in our society is the widespread culture of kickbacks that has always existed; but in my opinion, it has now reached alarming proportions, with public officials embroiled in networks that leave them richer and richer.

In the past, it used to be the Maltese customs officers who would be renowned for accepting some thick brown envelopes to look the other way. This time around, the middle or high officials in agencies and government structures and even private companies are willingly active in a culture of corruption which is protected by a thick patina of omertà.

Which is why when we read the surveys, we could very well be reading what society thinks but not what is behind this thinking process, and that we are not necessarily reading through the heart of the problem. It is clear that society here bases itself on self-interest and conceit, remains inward-looking with little or no altruism for solutions that benefit the public beyond pecuniary accumulation.

So now, if you do not mind, I’m off to the festa to watch a celebration of complex explosive chemical compounds ignited into a rainbow of colours, followed by an incessant salvo of petards that will rock the window panes, and send shivers down the spines of the elderly in the old people’s home next to my home. I just love it!

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