The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

The victims when things get hot

Noel Grima Sunday, 26 September 2021, 08:30 Last update: about 28 days ago

Ask Richard Muscat how it felt when he had to move to Sicily with his family so that the Nationalist Opposition could break the stranglehold of the Labour government and broadcast freely.

It was not just the fact that Muscat had to flee with his family, nor the continuous anonymous threats, but also the moves from Malta to get the Italian government to ban the rudimentary television broadcasts across the sea.

And yet the right-thinking segment of the population – ie the Nationalist supporters and the independent switchers – began to get the Nationalist broadcasts without interference and the Xandir Malta monopoly was broken. Pluralism, although seriously twisted, came in 1992. Richard Muscat’s heroic sacrifice paid dividends.

The situation today is vastly different. There is pluralism of a sort in broadcasting and the development of the Internet has changed the situation beyond recognition. Anybody can have a website without any need to get a permit. People can still be sued for statements deemed libellous but there are so many openings – Facebook, Instagram, to mention just two – that people now feel they can say anything. And they do, oh yes they do.

We have moved from the strict regulation of the late 1970s when not even the Leader of the Opposition could be mentioned by name to today’s ultra liberalism. Predictably the standards have gone south, not just in the Maltese (and also English) language but also and more importantly in what is said.

To be sure, this is not an exclusively Maltese situation nor does it exist in politics only. Football, for example, and not just in Malta, is replete with scurrilous language, vituperation and disregard for any rules. Control it as they try, the amount of insults flying around is astounding.

With an election behind the door any post put up risks a deluge of comments. There would be some positive comments on lucky days but they are usually submerged under a tsunami of comments from those who have misunderstood the post, those who delight in making zany comments and those who seem to pass the better part of the day to comment on anything or anyone from their own partisan point of view. Sometimes I go on Discus and type a name that would have struck me and am astounded to find this person has made thousands of comments.

I know it has been said that Labour actually pays some people to comment all the time (the Nationalist Opposition being too poor to afford to do it) but I find this hard to believe or maybe some people in government offices have nothing better to do. The comments do seem to taper off after working hours.

Anyway, people in the public eye, both politicians and commentators, must learn to develop a thick skin when they find themselves in the eye of a media storm. Or else get out of the public eye. Those who can’t stand the heat must get out of the kitchen...

Now Manuel Delia, ex-Arriva and ex-Austin Gatt, has let it be known (through an Italian website) that he and his family have received so many insults and threats that they are relocating to another country for the time being. This shocked almost the whole country until it was revealed Delia was not doing a Richard Muscat but has taken on a six-month stage at a European institution in Leipzig.

One sympathizes with the Delia family. Obviously, taking on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s mantle brings a particular enmity with it even though Daphne did not relocate elsewhere after the 2017 election (though she stopped her blog for some time).

Fighting for justice and against corruption will always bring hatred from those who stand to lose (though, truth be said, it is rather strange to find this recrudescence of bile when all surveys forecast a huge Labour victory).

But then we are forgetting one important detail: nearby Italy saw rivers of blood from the fight the Italian state fought against the Mafia – that of Giovanni Falcone, Piero Borsellino and Piersanti Mattarella – all judges and all officially engaged in the fight against evil and the links with Mafia. This is one element we lack here – with due respect to all.

They do not seem to have the sheer courage of Daphne and the small group among which one must include Manuel Delia.

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