The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Freedom of the press

Alfred Sant MEP Monday, 17 January 2022, 08:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

Personally I doubt whether the freedom of the press has deteriorated so much in recent years, compared to what it was, let’s say, twenty five or forty years ago. Journalism in Malta always operated in the shadow of the partisan flag run by political parties. Even the “Times of Malta” which boasts a lot about its “independence” sprang from the sinews of a party that was a bulwark of British colonialism in the island.

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The liberty which the press always enjoyed here was that of being partisan; which perhaps was not such a bad thing. The press would convey the truth about “facts” according to how it interpreted them. Few were the cases when such a form of expression was swept aside by libels or other sanctions – even if the incident when Godfrey Grima was prosecuted in Parliament about an item he had published is still given a star mention. It inspired Oliver Friggieri’s novel “Fil-Parlament ma jikbrux fjuri”.

The greatest peril that the press faces is not to its freedom but to its very existence. It results from the economic consequences of how the internet has brought about technological changes and hardly from the frontal political attack against its liberties. Obviously however, political power can easily ride on the economic changes that are happening in order to put pressure on the media.

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MONROE

There was a time when the US proclaimed most clearly that they considered any intervention in countries from outside the Western hemisphere in the affairs of countries in Central and “Latin” America, as a matter relevant to their interests and their national security. Indeed this doctrine was implemented as of the second half of the nineteenth century, when it was spelled out extremely clearly by US President James Monroe.

With time, the US toned down their open assertion of the doctrine. But they continued to implement it, as one could see with the invasions carried out when the internal policies of this or that country went in directions that they disliked.

It is intriguing to note how in the East of Europe at present, Russia is trying to put in place its own version of the Monroe doctrine.

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SUBSIDIARITY

There was a time when the EU would give a lot of space and attention to the notion of subsidiarity. What can be done best at a “lower” level than the federal one, should be left to happen at that “lower” level. If in order to succeed, an action had best have a wider “federal”  anchor, then that is where the EU should come into play.

The principle became one of the guidelines promoted by Jacques Delors, a President long ago of the European Commission. He used to refer to it in a big way as he laid down the basis for a stronger centralization of Europe.

In recent years, surely for as long as I’ve been at the European Parliament, very rarely did I hear this principle being invoked. It seems to have been forgotten. Who knows why?

It is true though that the biggest problems that have arisen lately were all “federal” in nature – management of the eurozone, certainly a project that admits of no subsidiarity; immigration; environmental pollution and climate warming; digitalisation; and now public health.

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