The Malta Independent 17 February 2020, Monday

TMID Editorial: The state broadcaster and Julian Assange

Thursday, 18 October 2018, 10:24 Last update: about 2 years ago

It is a small detail, but it is very much symptomatic of the rather large problem of media imbalance that we are facing, and which we have been facing for years, in Malta.

Yesterday, a group of the world’s leading proponents of freedom of speech, expression and media gave a press conference in which they delivered an extremely grave assessment, from an outsider’s point of view, on how those rights are, or, rather, are not, espoused in Malta.

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It was, in fact, a situation bordering on the surreal when a journalist from the national broadcaster piped up and asked a completely unrelated question about Julian Assange.

Now it is true that Assange has been in the news this week after newly released Ecuadorean government documents exposed an unorthodox attempt to extricate the WikiLeaks founder from his embassy refuge in London by naming him as a political counsellor to the country’s embassy in Moscow.

But when the subject matter is one that deals specifically with Malta, and specifically with a topic that any journalist in the country, irrespective of their political stripe, should be taking more than a passing interest in, something is certainly amiss.

We in the business of news have grown accustomed to smelling a planted diversionary tactic a mile away, tactics aimed at whiling away time that could be much better spent dealing with the real issues at hand.

And if that question posed was not exactly that, then the journalist should really think of doing some more research before attending press conferences.

Now we would not want to limit the national broadcaster’s freedom of speech or expression, but the situation is absurd.  And it is absurd how time and time again how Public Broadcasting Services puts up smokescreens to keep the gate for the government. 

That PBS is little more than a tool in the hands of the government of the day has been a reality for a long time but this government has pushed that envelope to all new abysmal levels.  This in itself is a most damning indictment and is symptomatic of a far deeper rot that has taken hold of this country.

Funnily enough, that completely out of place question came just after the organisations’ assessment on the state of the country’s media pluralism, which was not complimentary at all.  The journalist was politely reminded that it was not the time or place for such questions, and was invited to speak about Assange after the press conference about Malta.

The national broadcaster, after all, is meant to be the standard bearer when it comes to objectivity, fairness and neutrality, but so many times, more often than not, it very selectively chooses to completely ignore the news of the day when it is not complimentary to the government.

This is a compete disservice to the people it is meant to serve.

Now the independent media in this country may be accused of harassing Minister Konrad Mizzi, for example, in the same with those pesky questions every time he shows his face in public, but the fact of the matter is that those questions are of Maltese national importance.

The same can certainly not be said of Julian Assange.

It is very evident what is going on in this sycophantic country. This very same turning of blind eyes to the facts in favour of perceptions favourable to the government is so symptomatic of the post-truth world in which we live, where not only the public but also the media cherry picks the news it likes and ignores the rest.

This newsroom, as any responsible news organisation would and should do, reports all sides of all stories with equal measure. We will continue to do that, but we will also continue to frame such matters in their right and proper context. In addition, we will continue to hold others, especially the national broadcaster, to account when they fail to do so.

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