The Malta Independent 24 September 2021, Friday

TMID Editorial: Populism and misinformation

Friday, 10 September 2021, 09:04 Last update: about 14 days ago

Now that September has started, Robert Abela and Bernard Grech are once again behind microphones on Sunday mornings, sharing their wisdom and ideas with those who bother to listen in.

With surveys dishing out numbers on their popularity and trust ratings almost on a weekly basis, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader are busy building up the momentum towards a winter that will precede the run-up to the election campaign – unless Abela will try to surprise us with an early invitation to vote.

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Last Sunday, we had some comments which are worth some consideration, with Abela accusing the PN of taking positions according to what is controversial on the social media, while Grech replied by insisting that a misinformation campaign aimed to confuse voters sees the participation of the national broadcaster, PBS.

Abela stated that the anger expressed by people on social platforms is the same anger being expressed by the PN, without checking whether that anger is really justified. The government, Grech countered, is dictating what PBS publishes and broadcasts, and such control means that the people are being fed only the information the government wants them to receive.

Both, in different ways, are correct.

Because, yes, the PN seems to have finally discovered what the social media is all about, and is trying to make up the ground it lost to Labour which was quicker off the starting block in terms of social media usage. Yet, it is still to organise itself properly in the way it uses social media to its advantage.

There is also some confusion in people’s minds on the role Peter Agius has been given. “Chief spokesman”, we’re told he is. There are occasions when it is clear that he is representing or replacing the leader in certain activities – and the question that comes to mind is why the PN is hiding its leader.

One also wonders what MPs who are vying for space and time as the election approaches think about this arrangement. They are probably not happy about it.

Where Abela was cheeky is that he accused the PN of being “populist”, given his own party’s track record of freebies and vouchers given out over the past years to keep the people happy while Malta burned.

And, yes, the more time passes the more PBS is turning out to be a propaganda machine favouring the government. It’s not a new phenomenon that the national broadcaster pushes the government’s line, but this time round it has reached new levels. What is worrying is that TVM2 will soon be converted into a news channel; if this means that it will become a 24/7 station dishing out pro-government information, we will have problems.

This is so mostly because PBS is funded by taxpayers’ money, and the taxpayers deserve to be given professional and impartial services by the national broadcasting station. In this sense, PBS is not fulfilling its role properly.

We expect this tit-for-tat from the two leaders to become more intense as the weeks roll by.

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