in

Freedom of speech #barra 

Citizens of all political beliefs are free to express themselves without fear of being demonised. Unless you’re the Archbishop or an opponent of the Party in power

Freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But from what we’ve seen in the last few days, not all animals are equal in Malta.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna has been the subject of a coordinated attack by government officials and Labour Party supporters for retweeting an article published by The Shift News.

Had the article been a partisan attack on Labour, the attacks may have been justified (in a specific Maltese context that would still be debatable). But this was an article which described how society works in Malta.

It spoke about the dependency on a system created by the two mainstream political parties. It spoke about politicians filling in the vacuum left by the State. It spoke about a social structure which crushes meritocracy and fairness.

The article spoke about a system that has been created over decades and did not mention the Labour Party as responsible for creating it.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna got this. Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield – a ‘blogger’ at the Office of the Prime Minister who fulfils the role of The Ministry for Truth – did not get it.

Bedingfield hit back at the Archbishop for “bashing” the government for a point Scicluna never made. Members of the administration followed, blindly, or maybe they failed to get it too – from communications officers at ministries to the government’s ‘persons of trust’ to, of all people, Josef Caruana who penned an article when he was editor of L-Orizzont calling for the elimination of critical journalists.

Caruana, without any sense of irony, based his argument on freedom of expression. The former editor of L-Orizzont, whose controversial editorials were disowned by the trade union that owns the newspaper, was then given a job within the Office of the Prime Minister. It is from this position that he launched his vitriolic attack against the Archbishop.

While still working for l-Orizzont, Caruana had called on independent journalists who were “stifling progress” by writing against corruption to “disappear”. Journalists and editors from The Malta Independent and Times of Malta were frequently targeted by Caruana.

Following the PN’s watershed victory in 1987, freedom of expression no longer remained an exception and all parties adhered to the principles of free speech and freedom of the press (within the context the political parties defined).

These freedoms are not absolute but in Malta there seems to be a mutual understanding on bespoke conditions and restrictions.

Citizens of all political beliefs are free to express themselves without fear of being demonised. Unless you’re the Archbishop, or anyone critical of the government.

We are not saying this in defence of the Church – those who know us know we are not the people to do that, for any church or other religious belief. But we believe that fundamental rights are universal.

Caruana and Bedingfield, and all those who followed, did not get that point either. They are the ones who are unfit to rule, despite feeding that line to those criticising the Archbishop.

In a democracy people should be free to express themselves without censorship, restraint or legal penalty, as long as it is fair comment. But fair no longer exists.

The government defines the boundaries of comment, clearly proven by the continued attacks on the Archbishop. Alex Cutajar, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Ministry for Tourism that falls under Konrad Mizzi of Panama repute, stepped into the mess of the Twitter war they created by saying “nobody is trying to silence you”. Really.

It almost feels like a parallel universe, where everything is upside down. The country is unable to express itself openly and debate in a civil way its cultural and political differences.

Scicluna has been told in no uncertain terms to shut up. Some people even used the #barra (out) hashtag.

The Archbishop was accused of spreading hate and misinformation for sharing an article which spoke about a system built on clientelism and mediocrity.

People defending the Archbishop’s right to express himself freely were accused of being “enemies of free speech” and low and behold “terrorists.”

Today it is evident that the Labour government, which in many aspects acts like a regime, does not believe that people have the right to tell other people what they do not want to hear.

They do not even believe that people who they disagree with have a right to make an ass of themselves. Instead of criticising the idea or the message, they attack and demonise the messenger. Instead of engaging in a mature debate and use reason to disprove a theory right or wrong, they resort to bullying and name calling.

Logic is obviously something that Bedingfield and Caruana missed, but the fact that their message was replicated and endorsed by others in the administration shows something more sinister. Unless these attitudes change, from the very bottom to the very top, it’s mob rule.

Please sir, can we have some more?

Freedom of expression and the right to disagree