On judging others by one’s yardstick

The implications of Simon Busuttil’s attack are that any press story which negatively portrays his own party, is automatically an attack on democracy itself

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

It is regrettable that Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has attempted to discredit this newspaper when confronted with questions raised by one of our stories.

Specifically, he suggested that MaltaToday forms part of a conspiracy whereby, every time that the spotlight is turned on the government, “stories appear in the media” to divert attention.

Busuttil has made similar insinuations in the past, and as already illustrated he employs a very selective memory when it comes to pinpointing the stories that form part of this conspiracy.

Conveniently he forgets the many times his own party quoted MaltaToday articles which made just as damning revelations about the party currently in government.

On this occasion, in his Budget reply in parliament – a place where MPs enjoy parliamentary privilege – Busuttil made reference to the inquiry ordered by Joseph Muscat following MaltaToday’s report into the CapitalOne police investigation, a story that was revealed by this newspaper along with a UK journalist. 

Busuttil once again stated that Beppe Fenech Adami had denied all allegations. He then went on to raise a number of questions: “Is it true that the file passed on to the newspaper was a police file? If true, how did it end up in the newspaper’s hands? Is it true that the file was requested in April? Is it true that it was requested by an assistant police commissioner?”

To answer these questions: in no way were MaltaToday editor Matthew Vella and British journalist Mark Hollingsworth steered by the Maltese government into exposing the facts of the CapitalOne investigation. Still less to ‘divert attention’ from other issues. What interest could a foreign journalist even have in such an aim?

But Busuttil went on to add: “The state’s tools are being used to intimidate the Opposition… to shut it up: this is a fascist act of a dangerous government which is not good for a democratic country.”

This outburst is bizarre and calumnious. The implications of Busuttil’s attack are that any press story which negatively portrays his own party, is automatically an attack on democracy itself. Implicit in this reasoning is an inability to ever see things from any other perspective than his own partisan viewpoint.

According to this perspective, all journalists and all news organisations automatically have a partisan agenda, reflecting one or the other of the two parties... therefore, all stories must be regarded as motivated by partisan interests.

This is absurd and insulting. Journalists should not be measured by the partisan yardsticks used by both major political parties. Not everything that exists is there for the benefit of the two parties. Journalists have an agenda, and often it may indeed clash with the vocational aspects of the profession. But whatever the agenda, it is set by the media themselves... not by parties which can only ever see things through their own lens. 

MaltaToday responded to Busuttil’s charges two weeks ago: “This may come as a surprise to political party leaders and their propagandists, but newspapers such as MaltaToday – and genuine journalists everywhere – are interested in stories for their own sake, whoever prints them.”

To suggest that MaltaToday would be part of some “fascist” conspiracy is totally spurious. We never suggested in any shape or form that Beppe Fenech Adami influenced the investigation; we said that the investigation was postponed in January 2013 to a date in April 2013: when an investigative report by police informed top brass that Beppe Fenech Adami, then parliamentary assistant for home affairs, was a “PEP” appearing as a director of CapitalOne’s nominee shareholder, Baltimore Fiduciary. 

MaltaToday’s facts are cast-iron and so far, unimpeachable; and we always reported Beppe Fenech Adami’s comments faithfully. The facts suggest that police were not zealous about pursuing an alleged money laundering case. Casting aspersions does not change them.

Fenech Adami says he was the director of a fiduciary for which he was never remunerated, and for which he was not even hands-on in its day-to-day affairs. This is perhaps worrying, given that CapitalOne was later investigated for alleged money laundering, and that its ultimate beneficial owner happened to be a convicted securities fraudster.

As the leader of a political party that sets such store by good governance, it is incumbent on him to take on board the implications of a story that raises such doubts. One cannot clean up the country, without getting one’s own house in order.

The Nationalist Party was once a staunch supporter of the free press. And there is no doubt that it still is. But the Opposition is not the only pillar of democracy. The press is also instrumental.

To have a healthy democracy, the demarcation line between politics and journalism must be clear. We are a newspaper, not a political party. Not everyone is a party apparatchik, and not everyone wants to be paid by a political party or government.

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