Skip to main content

One of the things which I always found remarkable about Daphne Caruana Galizia is the fact that she refused to be a mere mortal who will bend the knee to anyone who asks forcefully enough.

Telling Daphne what to do would get you about as far as telling an oak tree in which direction to grow. Telling Daphne what to write – and especially, what not to write – was the surest way to earn yourself a personalised online bollocking the following morning. Every dissident journalist must defend their independence fiercely when they’re in hostile territory, and Daphne was certainly no rank and file dissident.

Flying the black flag

The fact that Malta’s political climate is extremely hostile towards journalists should be obvious to anyone with eyes and ears by now. You could be living under a rock and somehow not have heard about Daphne’s murder and it would still probably take you less than a day to realise just how openly contemptuous politicians are.

After social policy minister Michael Falzon’s dirty laundry was aired publicly by Labour Party insiders who were involved in the social benefits racket, every reporter with any nous for the news wanted to try and get Falzon’s comment on camera. Sure enough, that same afternoon, Times of Malta dispatched one of its journalists, Daniel Ellul, to doorstep Falzon on his way in to Parliament.

Falzon’s rebuttal to Ellul’s request for a comment was: “I don’t have any comments, write what you want as you usually do”. This is Falzon’s second strike this week. At this rate, he may as well start telling his henchmen to chloroform any journalist who dares as much as set foot within the minister’s orbit.

Had this been a normal country, Falzon’s responses to journalists’ questions would have meant that the prime minister, eager to save face from the sheer embarrassment of it all, would be left with no choice but to sack him as soon as he reads the headline. But alas, normal we are not, so instead, we have a prime minister who will unconvincingly utter any excuse to shirk legislation that would provide any kind of additional protection for independent media.

Not content with hogging the oxygen supply with their disgusting propaganda outlets (ONE-TVM and NET), the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party also appoint representatives at the Broadcasting Authority, whose executive committee is chaired by a politically appointed CEO, Joanna Spiteri.

Ironically, the CEO of a broadcasting authority which fails to nurture a robust, fair media landscape had written about this subject in her PhD thesis, published two years before she was appointed as CEO. She has failed to do anything to address those issues since she was appointed eight years ago.

Judging from the decisions that have been taken by the BA, including the recent debacle in which president of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola was singled out by a legal notice, it seems her PhD was more of a box-ticking exercise than it was a labour of passion. Just because the Nationalist Party is getting bitten in the arse by a system it is complicit in building does not mean it is spared from criticism for it. However, it does not hollow out their claims of foul play, either.

If the Nationalist Party itself wishes to ever be taken seriously on this issue (right as it may be to pounce on the BA’s failures), it can lead by example and shut down its propaganda machine once and for all.

Even when the BA does issue a verdict which more or less makes sense in the context of the complaint it is based on – like its recent condemnation of TVM’s failure to challenge Helena Dalli’s pathetic lamentations during the president’s swearing-in ceremony – it misses the bigger picture.

Of course, it would be almost irresponsible of me to name-check TVM without referring to the case of Norman Vella, who has spent the past eleven years fighting against his unjust dismissal from the state broadcaster only to have the goalposts moved once more.

While the decision to postpone what was meant to be the date of the verdict was taken by the Employment Commission, the refusal to settle for a verdict occurred at the behest of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia, who had verbally indicated that he would accept a verdict being issued in the absence of one of the commission’s members only to then change tack at the eleventh hour.

Muscat’s hatchet man would never admit that this was done purely to shaft Vella one more time, even though it’s always been obvious that Vella’s removal was one of the many steps which the Labour Party needed to take to slowly weed out dissidents and install its puppets in the required positions.

As the recommendations of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry gather dust, the BA’s inadequacy in the face of the scale of the problems we face becomes truly unbearable.

The fact is that our media landscape is dominated by voices whose interests are controlled or at least influenced by the major parties, be it in the form of a captured state broadcaster, a relic of an authority that is about as relevant and useful as a musket in Bucha, ONE and NET, or the huge amount of taxpayer money being spent on advertising and sponsored content.

Those same entrenched interests have acquired so much influence over the structure of the landscape that it is impossible to operate within it while playing by their rules, their customs, and their practices. This is the reason why The Critical Angle project exists: to function outside that domain and operate free from its constraints.

It is surreal to hear representatives of the Labour Party talk about what they think the media is or what it should or shouldn’t be when they are the leading architects of its decline. To hear someone like the social policy minister harrumph about ‘the media writing whatever it wants to write’ is beyond absurd – it is a criminal attempt at delegitimising critics.

Well, Falzon is right, only not in the way he thinks he is. If it were up to him, we’d be writing about how the sun shines out of his orifices and the wind only moves the earth whenever he gives it permission to do so, about all the generous handouts he gives out in the run-up to election season, about all the great work he has done to wash the great unwashed.

The difference between the independent press and the Labour Party is that we do not, in fact, operate with impunity.

Those of us who can call themselves real journalists are obliged to consider extremely high thresholds of documentary evidence (the bigger the story, the more airtight the claim must be), expert opinions, codes of ethics which are to be respected in every professional encounter, layers of open-ended trust and protective secrecy in equal measure, and a keen sense of instinct which is honed by years of training, know-how, and constantly keeping your ears to the ground.

We are forced to take extraordinary precautions because both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party are responsible for facilitating a media climate that promotes partisanship and relentless commercialism more than it does anything else. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either blinded by loyalty to their party, cashing in from the whole set-up, or outright ignorant of the way these things work in general.

I, for one, am sick and tired of playing by their rules, and refuse to acknowledge the BA’s authority in the same way I refuse to acknowledge that, in order to be recognised as a journalist in this country, one needs to apply for a press pass, as if the government has any right to decide who gets to be a journalist and who doesn’t.

Hands off the black flag, you greedy pigs.

Leave a Reply