The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Action Man

Charles Flores Sunday, 9 February 2020, 10:30 Last update: about 7 months ago

Few, if any, among the non-prejudiced and unbiased, should have any doubts over Robert Abela’s quick settling-down in the premier’s seat of power and his preparedness for the next two-and-a-half years of action to mend, produce and create within a declared process of continuity insofar as the nation’s current economic success is concerned.

Sometimes, however, it is not necessarily the pumped-up proposals and media-wise launching of major campaigns that define a new administration’s policy, but the everyday tweaks and tugs that help smooth and re-route government procedures left unseen or unchecked for too long. Anglo-Saxon critics, among them historians with an obvious axe to grind, often refer to its regional incidence as “the Latin mind-set” of life in general, that laissez-faire attitude to things happening under one’s nose. Across the water from us, the Italians provide manifold examples, but they too have been tackling this Mediterranean trait, such as having a single civil servant punching in for the day’s work on behalf of the rest of the staff who went fishing, shopping and loving one’s neighbour!

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The decision to ask Nationalist Opposition MPs – who have made a habit of not reporting for work at cosy government jobs but have still been cashing in their hefty salaries – to report for work or face dismissal may have its political misinterpretations. The truth is, however, that it shows a determination to do away with once and for all the idea that the status quo is, well, something we all have to accept and live with as we have done for donkey’s years. For the Robert Abela government it seems it is not.

I am sure the policy applies to Government MPs who may also have government jobs to see to, regardless of the pressures from their everyday “servitude to the nation”, as elected representatives often bombastically portray their parliamentary chores. In this way, civil service employees – as well as the whole working population of Malta and Gozo – can no longer complain that while they are rightly expected to punch in and give their fair share of the day’s work, the privileged among them are left to simply milk the golden cow.

Insignificant, little things, one might say – but it is from them that an action man needs to start to go further up and jolt the others out of their comfort zone and into further accomplishment. 

 

Solidarity in the media

When it comes to unity and solidarity, there really is not too much to be proud of in our community of journalists. There has always been this tribal feeling pestering the minds of media people who were more apt to stick to a distorted sense of belonging rather than working towards giving the profession a more organised role in society and providing it with a more reliable shield against both use and abuse.

This is why it has always been difficult since the immediate post-War period, when the likes of Anton Cassar, Tom Hedley, Toni Montanaro, Paul Carachi, Charles Grech-Orr and several others were, in fact, the best of friends, reciprocally sociable and affable, but could not agree to having a proper Press Club. Their loyalties lay elsewhere.

The same pattern continued when later generations of journalists and broadcasters unsuccessfully tried to set up shop, only to flounder at its very initiation. Ironically, the nearest shot took place in the mid-1980s when Malta was going through a wave of political turmoil (er, yes, when was it not?), but the setting up of a short-lived Press Club had at the time helped stave off some unnecessary police hassle. Then it was back to sheer individualism, division and twisted loyalties.

Another venture occurred at the very end of those same Eighties, in 1989, when the Malta Press Club was formed, strangely enough on the initiative of the PR and advertising sector, spear-headed by the late Joe Brockdorff and ex-journalist Carmel Bonello. Much later, the Club metamorphosed into ‘L-Istitut tal-Ġurnalisti Maltin’, the IĠM we know today. It is still alive and kicking but, in truth, how representative of the Maltese journalistic community is it?

The last figure I heard was a mere 11 per cent, which goes to show that the old malaise persists, alas, and young – and not-so-young – journalists still seem disinterested and do not feel the need to be part of an organisation that identifies them, offers them good opportunities and could, one day hopefully in union mode, provide better protection. The bosses within the different media institutions have always had it this good, fully aware that there is not enough invested to justify any unified action from their employees.

However, journalists can at least make an effort to show real solidarity among themselves. I have always hated reading obnoxious stories about individual journalists written by fellow journalists who probably had no choice. They obviously give in to internal and political pressures and the result is this public perception of helplessness and empty pique.

All this came to mind early this week on reading how a number of UK political journalists boycotted a Downing Street briefing, of all places, in protest after reporters from certain titles were banned from attending. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Director of Communications, Lee Cain, had earlier refused access to representatives of publications including The Daily Mirror, HuffPost, The Independent and the “i” newspaper. The whole thing was brutishly handled, with those on the OK list being asked, one by one, to cross to the other side of the room, while the remaining journalists were asked to leave. Happily, the OKs instantly walked out of the briefing in solidarity with their excluded rivals-cum-colleagues.

Journalists deserve all the respect they can get, but they should be the first to have respect for their own by refusing to be involved, as they have been over the decades, in political muck to smear journalists who happen to have committed some off-duty transgressions or who have written things which may have not sounded like music to some ears.

 

Curial curiosity

I see that the Archbishop’s curiosity – expressed during a recent radio interview, regarding the trumped-up issue of expensive gifts to ex-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat – has been more than placated. All of them had been officially tucked away, catalogued and documented accordingly.

Case closed, I guess, unlike the case of the ever-growing list of Catholic clergy accused of the sexual abuse of children around the world.

 

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