The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

No price is too cheap

Noel Grima Sunday, 4 November 2018, 10:01 Last update: about 16 days ago

Over the years I have spent as a journalist, there have been times when I have detested this profession.

I have assisted as people have been savaged by the media for no other reason but the fact that they were related to a political opponent. Time has passed but the scars remain, deeply embedded in the memories of the victims and of their children – too young at the time to understand what was happening around them regarding their families.

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This has now become the norm, the skewed way we do politics in this country. A cursory look at our newspapers and websites shows that we give only the slightest attention to the big themes around us: will there be a no-agreement Brexit? Will the Italian economy collapse as a result of the new government’s inexperience? Will post-Merkel Germany find a new leader quickly? – or, worse, we allow our information to come through foreign news agencies with their own agenda, while on national news we allow ourselves to wallow in juicy titbits about our opponents.

That is what we have allowed our political debate to come to: a battle of juicy titbits. We have built a no-holds-barred culture with no themes or subjects off-limit or out-of-bounds. Anything and everything is grist to the mill.

Over the years, we have seen many of our political leaders become victims of this craze – with papers from an annulment case being retrieved and broadcast, with the murky background of one of our political greats being broadcast years after this person’s death, and now with marital trouble in the family of one of our political leaders being made public at the ungodly hour of 1.30am by a political opponent.

What have these titbits to do with politics, with the great issues of the country? Hardly anything at all, unless one stretches a point. This is completely different from issues regarding allegations of corruption, as long as the latter are proved at least to a degree of probability.

I wonder what the new generation of reporters and/or journalists are being taught, and what the managers of newsrooms and webpages and whatnot are thinking about if not the number of clicks and advertising revenue. But is that really what the citizens want?

The traditional definition of the media is to inform and to enable its users to form an opinion and take appropriate decisions. The new media seeks to titillate and to entertain, which is why it is easy for it to become the purveyor of fake news.

Do not get me wrong: I am no virgin in this field and my past has made me, if not downright responsible at least indirectly responsible. I think I have paid my share in libel cases, very few of which I won. There is a rather wide margin between what the public deserves to hear about and what is only the result of titillation.

This blurring of boundaries has not just discredited the media as a whole (as was seen in a recent survey) but actually enables the powers that be to play around with people’s susceptibilities and, through skillful dialectic skill, shift the attention elsewhere.

The media in Malta (but also elsewhere) is engaged in a race to the bottom and is fast losing its efficacy in the process. And as newer titles come to the market and expect to turn a profit in next to no time, and as costs increase, the pressure to establish a market share gets fiercer and fiercer: hence the temptation to go the way of the tabloids and in Malta’s incessant political fever that means rubbishing your opponents.

One good antidote is to ask yourself what if the same were to happen to you or your family. Another is the well-known maxim that if you have bad news to make known, it’s better if you do it yourself than if you allow your opponents to do it for you in their own interest.

 

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