[WATCH] New leaders, COVID-19 and migration set the tone for 2020

Xtra on TVM | Journalists and political commentators look back on the major events of 2020

Xtra presenter Saviour Balzan with guests Joe Giglio and Charlon Gouder
Xtra presenter Saviour Balzan with guests Joe Giglio and Charlon Gouder

New political leaders, Malta’s stand-off on immigration and the COVID-19 pandemic were the defining moments of 2020, according to journalists and commentators.

Robert Abela and Bernard Grech still face new challenges which they need to surmount, according to Labour leaning commentator Charlon Gouder and Nationalist Party candidate Joe Giglio.

Both commentators talked of the earthquake on either side of the political divide when they discussed the events of 2020 on TVM’s Xtra.

“The Nationalist Party needs to see how it is going to build on the work of the Labour government, and create a vision for the immediate future and the long-term future,” Giglio said.

Expressing faith in Bernard Grech’s ability to find the recipe for success, he argued that when one enters politics with the sole intention of helping the country, this recipe “is sure to be found”.

Gouder noted that Robert Abela has already taken on multiple challenges during his tenure, arguing that he managed to strengthen the pillars of good governance while rising up to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked by presenter Saviour Balzan whether the rule of law reforms that are being enacted are too little, too late, Gouder disagreed. 

“The European Commission itself noted that this government has managed to address, in a relatively short period of time, certain inadequacies that we have had as country over the course of our history,” he insisted. 

Giglio, however, said that the government should have implemented the needed reforms before being coerced into doing so by international institutions.

“The pity is that, as a country we had to arrive to a situation where, in order to implement these reforms, foreign entities had to come here and reprimand us for not doing so… We know what we should do – we are an independent sovereign nation – we did not have to come to a situation where Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had to go and humiliate himself, and by extension us as a country, in front of foreign institutions,” Giglio said.

Times of Malta editor Herman Grech identified the COVID-19 virus as the most significant event of the year, saying that it inevitably overshadowed everything else while throwing up new challenges for the media and the country as a whole. 

Illum editor Albert Gauci Cunningham agreed, further adding that people may to this day, not yet be fully aware of the harsh realities faced by many others due to the effects of the pandemic.

“From the journalistic angle, this pandemic created a lot of space for us to meet and talk to people and businessmen, and perhaps sometimes not everyone understands that this year there were many people who really suffered, and who saw a lifetime’s work disappear in an instant,” Gauci Cunningham said. 

Balzan also brought up the subject of the public inquest into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and the revelations that emerged, asking the head of ONE News, Edward Montebello, about the implications this has had on the Labour government.  

Montebello noted that there is significant progress being made in the investigation, with four people being accused of being involved in the murder. He argued that the courts should be allowed to carry on with their work without any interference and with all the support they need, but added that the public inquiry should be concluded in line with the terms that had been agreed. 

“The inquest should be closed this month on the terms that even the Caruana Galizia family agreed to,” he said. 

Nationalist candidate Darren Carabott meanwhile, picked up on the topic of the media and how it represents reality, arguing that there is a political agenda in the message put forward by many media houses. 

“I believe that there should be transparency in the message that is delivered… I do see an agenda in certain reportage, both from the national channel and even other media. What annoys me is that there is a political agenda behind the message and this is where the hypocrisy comes out, as well as the fact that there is the attempt to present an alternate reality to what is truly going on,” Carabott said.

Grech concluded the discussion on the topic of illegal immigration, arguing that there needs to be a strategy shift at EU level in order for this contentious problem to be solved.

“We definitely won’t find the solution tomorrow but I believe that even within the EU, the discussion should move from talk to action, and action shouldn’t be that of throwing money at the problem and telling the Libyans to solve it themselves. I expect some sort of real mechanism so that they’re either integrated or, if they’re illegal, sent back in an effective manner,” he said.