The Malta Independent 15 December 2017, Friday

The petty-mindedness of it all

Charles Flores Tuesday, 5 December 2017, 08:58 Last update: about 10 days ago

As Malta’s steadfast march to further economic success – which will continue to support her social welfare policies and foster investment, stability and unprecedented achievements in practically all sectors – goes on. It is utterly incredulous to have to watch a twice-debunked politician in Parliament trying to describe the Maltese media as a sycophantic establishment pampered by the sugar-daddy administration of some authoritarian regime, because we all know it is an untrue depiction and the country has never had a more watchful, well-equipped, multi-voiced and vigilant media.

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This petty-mindedness would be amusing, had it not been displayed by someone whose defeat at the polls just six months ago has turned him into a tension-packed robot speeding up its conveyor-belt of bitterness by way of clinging to an iota of political relevance. Attacking the media is something very few politicians dare to do, not that it should not be open to criticism like all other institutions, but the factor of pluralism has an important say in all this. The famous story in the UK of how the abominable Sun newspaper had switched allegiance from Gordon Brown (after its love affair with Tony Blair) to David Cameron is the perfect example.

As long as newspapers, news portals, blogs and the private radio and TV stations have the freedom to switch in the same manner, whenever and however they wish, I cannot see why politicians have to demur. Editorial policies, except of course those of public media institutions that are legally bound to offer factual and unbiased information, are not a straightjacket that has to survive a lifetime. We have seen only hints of this process in the Maltese media, simply because our bipartisan tendencies do get in the way a bit too much, but it has occurred and, I have no doubt, it will continue to re-occur in the everyday cycle of news and events.

In Malta’s case especially, the ‘independent’ media can only be recognised by these subtle editorial shifts, however sporadic, because if one digs deep enough into any information source on these Islands, one is bound to find the rudiments of innate political loyalties. There is no shame in that, neither is there any in having both left and right wing journalists expounding their views among the ‘independent’ posers. While there is the aspect of survival in a market that is, by nature, exceedingly small and rendered more so by advertising and marketing saturation, one or two always manage to peak above the rest and so claim a bigger portion of public influence.

Not in his or her wildest imagination can one subscribe to the idea of a news organisation feeding simply on state give-aways when it has, on record, based its success on the provision of hard facts, serious commentaries and genuine investigative stories, regardless of its ideological leanings at a given moment in time.

The current President of the European Parliament must be highly aware of the fact that state assistance to the print media, for example, is practised widely and ultra-generously across the water from us in Italy. There are provincial newspapers that hardly sell the number our top-selling papers manage to achieve on a daily or weekly basis, that receive state aid to keep them going. The big nationals, with circulation figures far below those of major newspapers in the UK, get a bigger share of these state windfalls. But, of course, in Italy, with no mafia state and where the rule of law reigns supreme, one would hardly expect the poor journalists to be wagging their tails in anticipation of these ‘authoritarian’ perks!

What has led to this bland, solo attack on the ‘independent’ media? Bitterness, to which reference has already been made, is just one ingredient. There seems to be the dour realisation that doors – internal doors which lead to the long, dark corridors and chandeliered halls of inter-party power – are gradually being shut brusquely in one’s face.

In politics, there is nothing worse than the pathetic scene of a deflated political leader trying to retain a Don Quixotic semblance of authority. Previous leaders acted in different ways: Borg Olivier, hurt and wounded to the core, faded away. Mintoff kept an off-line, but typical roaring profile. In Napoleonesque mode, Fenech Adami quickly crowned himself president. Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici wisely rowed his boat back to serene waters. Alfred Sant withdrew into his well-known pragmatic shell. And from a declared distance, Lawrence Gonzi continued to cast his greying shadow on proceedings. Today, Simon Busuttil is caught in a Punch-and-Judy show that prompts tears of laughter, pity and disdain on both sides of the political fence.

At the end of the day, the damage caused is to those same party rank-and-filers who were instrumental in ushering him out to create space for someone new with his new way, whenever that appears. A politician who can be graceful in accepting when his adieu moment arrives earns a lot more respect than the one who goes down screaming to the knacker’s yard of history.

 

 

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Dirty media war

There is another, much bigger, dirty media war going on. Involving the three great political colossi of the US, the EU and Russia, it is all so audaciously hypocritical that it could be a sick joke. Throughout this tired year, the US has chosen to identify the one solitary Russian news service with a worldwide audience, Russia Today, as some sort of enemy undermining the good work of happy American and European folk, resulting in an official demand for RT to register as a foreign agent or face criminal action. To hell with ‘freedom of expression’.

The story does not end there. Now both the US and the EU have come out condemning Russia’s ‘symmetrical response’ via new media laws restricting foreign entities. As one pundit said the other day: “Their arrogant message was: ‘do as we say, not as we do’.”

In a nutshell, under the new laws, any foreign-financed news outlet operating in Russia may have to register as a foreign entity, disclosing its financial details and journalistic activities, pretty much the same way RT’s affiliate in the US has been compelled to do by the US Department of Justice.

It is a no-brainer to deduce that if RT is Russian propaganda, sponsored by Russian government funds, them the same has to be said about American government-owned Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. Add to them other biased private and public news organisations such as Deutsche Welle, CNN, Fox, BBC, Sky and Euronews, and you have the correct final score: 20-1!

Last month, the EU announced £1.1 million of funding for a Brussels-based media watchdog with the sole remit of labelling Russian news media as “fake”, no doubt a Trump-like method of censorship and restriction that is considered ‘acceptable’, but not when the Russians respond like-for-like, for that then would mean “threatening free and independent media” and “undermining human rights obligations.”

If, as the US Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Dana J. Boente, insisted: “Americans have a right to know who is acting in the US to influence the US government or public on behalf of foreign principals”, does not the same argument apply to Russians with the same right on their own soil?

 

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