[WATCH] Journalists offer different interpretations of events leading to snap election

Heated debate illustrates how one person's fight for justice is another's coordinated plot

Pierre Portelli (left) and Karl Stagno-Navarra (right)
Pierre Portelli (left) and Karl Stagno-Navarra (right)

Journalists from four different media organisations discussed their views on the election campaign that draws to a conclusion in just under three hours, offering differing interpretations of the events leading up to the announcement of a snap election exactly one month ago.  

NET TV head of news Fabian Demicoli, ONE TV presenter Karl Stagno-Navarra, l-Orizzont editor Josef Caruana and The Malta Independent director of content Pierre Portelli were guests on current affairs programme Xtra, which is hosted by MediaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan.

Portelli said that he was surprised by the fact that despite the PN seeming to have been caught off guard, it still succeeded in executing a strong campaign, when asked about the two campaigns.

“In the first week they were weak, but they then managed to have a good campaign,” he said.

On the other hand, he said that while the Labour Party had also started-out slow, it was clearly well prepared. He added that ultimately however, both parties had succeeded in bringing their message across and both had put forward good proposals.

Fabian Demicoli (left) Josef Caruana (centre) and host Saviour Balzan (right)
Fabian Demicoli (left) Josef Caruana (centre) and host Saviour Balzan (right)

Caruana said the nation was experiencing political fatigue mainly due the fact that the campaign represented “the essence” of a legislature in which the Opposition had been overly divisive from the start.  

“The Nationalist had every reason to raise the temperament from the start of the legislature,” he said. “Let’s not forget that with five years to go [PN leader] Simon Busuttil, presented his first candidates for the election. It was his intention to go back to 1981.”  

Asked whether Busuttil had succeeded in dictating the political agenda, Caruana insisted that the PN leader had used “irregular tactics” to constantly attack the government.

Balzan questioned whether political party television stations were only preaching to the converted with Demicoli pointing out that there were several stories that were overlooked by the independent media.

“It was NET News got the infamous footage of bags leaving Pilatus Bank,” said Demicoli. “Prior to that footage, the Prime Minister said he would not call an inquiry.”

 He insisted that the latest accusations were not the only ones to have up during the legislature.

“NET was covering and discussing issues that the people were talking about,” he added.

Stagno-Navarra accused NET of manufacturing a “surreal” reality by claiming, for example, that the government had collapsed on the day the election was announced.

He said the same of the footage showing the chairman of Pilatus Bank leaving the bank, which he said was followed by many claims, including that the chairman had left the country.

“This campaign started with a lie,” he insisted. “Not only about Egrant but it was further packaged through descriptions of circumstances that are surreal.”

He implied that people such as the Pilatus Bank chairman had been intentionally placed in a bag light through unreasonable questioning.

“A banker can never give information about who doesn’t or does have an account at his bank. When a person goes to the bank, does he do so, so that the bank manager can tell people what you own?” he insisted.

Asked whether the publication of various FIAU reports was in the public interest, Stagno-Navarra said that while it may have been, the manner in which this was done raised a number of questions.

“The way in which certain things were being published showed a clear strategy that complimented the narrative that the government has collapsed, with corruption everywhere,” said Stagno-Navarra, adding that conjecture should have been avoided and that the principle of innocent until proven guilty, respected.

On whether a snap election was justified, given the circumstances, Portelli acknowledged that there would have been a PN backlash irrespective of whether he had chosen to wait or not but that it was clear that Muscat had no reason to call an election for people to vote before more revelations come to light.

Pierre Portelli
Pierre Portelli

Moreover, he said that it was his belief that an early election would have been called nonetheless, since the FIAU reports were always going to come to light and Muscat had four years-worth of economic success to boast.  

Egrant Inquiry

On the Prime Minister’s assertion that he would resign if the Egrant inquiry found nothing, Caruana, acknowledged that Muscat could have waited for the conclusion of the inquiry before calling an election, but also said the inquiry showed Muscat had nothing to hide since its results would eventually be known to the public.

Portelli said that whatever the outcome, corruption had now become a problem for Muscat.

Demicoli went further, saying that the government’s reaction to the allegations showed they were true, since knowing the full extent, Muscat was “preparing people” for what he knew would be revealed sooner or later.

FIAU report on Pilatus Bank

Turning to Pilatus Bank, Balzan pointed out that it wasn’t the only private bank operating the way it did, and that it may have been unfairly dragged into the controversy.

Portelli, however pointed out that the fact that there was an FIAU report on the bank, was enough for it to be questioned. The Malta Independent had published the report which contained a number of issues that were flagged by the FIAU.

Caruana however read out a conclusion from another report by the same agency which was published today in l-Orizzont, which stated that following the FIAU’s second visit to the bank, no concerns were raised.

Fabian Demicoli (left) and Josef Caruana (right)
Fabian Demicoli (left) and Josef Caruana (right)

Portelli clarified that he had not read the report and the conclusions read out by Caruana and, following a commercial break clarified that Caruana’s report was from September of 2016, whereas the one he had seen had been drawn up in March.

He noted however that within the period of time between the two reports, then police commissioner Michael Cassar and FIAU director Manfred Galdes had left their posts.

Moreover, he said that he was the only one to have seen the documents presented to the magistrate by the whistle-blower, adding that he was not able to publish the documents since the whistle-blower was Russian and had been advised by the Russian embassy, that if she did not cooperate with the magistrate, they would not be in a position to help her.    

Partit Demokratiku

Portelli said that while he believed Godfrey Farrugia would do better than party leader Marlene Farrugia, the possibility of Marlene, being a destabilising factor in a potential new government should be viewed as a positive. He said the presence of the PD could increase checks and balances within the coalition.

Both Caruana and Stagno-Navarra were dismissive of the party, with the former saying it wouldn’t be a factor and the latter insisting the coalition only served Marlene Farrugia’s purposes.

Demicoli on the other hand believed PD’s effect was positive and that Simon Busuttil had succeeded in opening up the Nationalist Party and making more accepting to other views. 

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