The Malta Independent 18 October 2018, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Labour’s lack of ethics - Silvio Schembri’s nasty comment

Wednesday, 16 May 2018, 10:16 Last update: about 5 months ago

Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri has added his name to the list of Labour politicians who offended others with their words and got away with it.

It is that kind of arrogance that has characterised the Labour administration in the last five years. And, given that there are no consequences for Labour politicians who make these mistakes, the list of offenders is most likely to grow.

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Joseph Muscat’s lack of action against ministers, parliamentary secretaries and other party exponents who erred in the way they spoke have pushed others to come up with their own hurtful remarks. Chris Cardona’s axe jibe, Evarist Bartolo’s hymen comment, Joe Debono Grech’s “nigi ghalik u nifqghek” (I will come to beat you up) are just three examples. 

But while the comments made by Cardona, Bartolo and Debono Grech were directed at political opponents, the one by Schembri hit a vulnerable part of our community. Last week, the man responsible for the digital economy chose to mock people with mental issues by suggesting on the social media that people who are highly critical of the government should take Prozac twice daily to solve their issues.

The drug is used to treat major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder – in other words, people who have mental issues and who need help, and not insults, to deal with their condition.

While some may argue that everyone is entitled to free speech, there are limits to which one should adhere, particularly if he or she holds a public position such as the one Schembri occupies. Free speech is one thing, insulting one in every four persons – yes, the number of people suffering from mental problems is 25 percent of the population – is another.

Schembri’s offence ironically came hours after Malta’s song for the Eurovision Song Contest, which dealt with the stigma associated with mental issues, was eliminated in the semi-final of the competition.

On the one hand, Malta was disappointed that its entry which brought up such an important social issue was discarded, and on the other hand we had a government member ridiculing people who struggle with mental difficulties. The song speaks about the need “to break the taboo before we all become animals”, and here was Schembri doing exactly the opposite. His words are part of the “sticks and stones” that Christabelle refers to when she sings about the way society attacks people with mental problems.

But there was no reprimand, at least in public, for his disgusting behaviour. Neither did he apologise for what he did, meaning that there was no regret. His tweet is still available and was not removed.

The Partit Demokratiku gave the government a good lesson in this regard. When an insulting comment was posted about PS Julia Farrugia Portelli on the party’s Facebook page it was immediately removed, the party apologised and an investigation was launched, which has resulted in the PD reviewing the way it will operate on the social media. But the government and the Labour Party do not know what ethical behaviour means.

While the government says it is working to assist people with mental difficulties and trying hard to eliminate the way such issues are perceived in public, it does nothing when one of its younger exponents publicly offends mental health patients and their families.

How can we take the government seriously when it says it is tackling mental health problems and then does not lift a finger when someone like Schembri comes up with such a hateful remark?

 

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