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War of cultures

Culture is not about suppressing opinions and concealing ugly truths

Jason Micallef at a Labour Party mass meeting in 2017. (Photo: Facebook)

Malta is divided. On one side, civil society demanding justice and rule of law and on the other the Castille clique of bloggers and social media trolls doing their best to alienate people and spin news.

The two keyboard armies are different. On one hand you have citizens requesting justice while on the other hand you have civil servants paid by tax payers’ money spinning and creating diversions. The latter are not only doing their utmost to spin news, but they have gone to the extent of manipulating reports.

Glenn Bedingfield handed over the doctored report (that should not have been in the government’s hands) to journalists in his official role as an MP and OPM official, and not in his private role as a blogger. Is this the transparency that Joseph Muscat promised five long years ago?

Instead of transparency we got an administration which blacks out contracts and fiddles with documents. Instead, we got Valletta 2018 chairman Jason Micallef slagging off a murdered journalist.

Culture is not just about fireworks and getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day.

In Slovakia, where an investigative journalist was also murdered, the first politician to resign was the minister for culture Marek Madaric. In Malta, the chairman of the European Capital of Culture ridicules the memory of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Culture is more than pageants, light shows and carnival floats. Culture is solidarity, art, freedom of expression. Culture is not about rivalry and suppressing opinion. Culture is not about concealing ugly truths.

In the words of a collective of internationally renowned writers, including Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood, “European culture includes the freedom to criticise, satirise and investigate those in power. The role of the Chairman of the European Capital of Culture should be to safeguard this right, not to threaten it.”

But the strong rebuke was completely ignored by the Labour media, who would rather report on chocolate wrappers and monkeys than what top writers think about Malta and Micallef’s “outrageous” behaviour.

If this is the new way of doing things that Muscat promised I think he got it all wrong. Spinning and attacking civil society surely does not guarantee transparency.

Attacks on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s memorial in Valletta, attacks on bloggers and social media users, attacks on the Archbishop for retweeting an article. This is the new normal. People entrusted with positions of trust waging war against who ever dares have a different point of view.

Instead of making sure that transparency reigns, as Muscat promised, political appointees and civil servants are going head over heels to spin the news and alienate people during their daily office hours.

What is more exasperating is when you have people that led campaigns against censorship that are censoring themselves and their organisation. Mark Camilleri, the activist-cum-national book council chairperson, has remained mum on the attacks on freedom of expression.

This is not culture. It’s not the right way to do things. A society that is not willing to be criticised is not a healthy society. Culture is not carnival and village feasts alone. Culture is the freedom to criticise and investigate those in power. Culture is the freedom to think outside the political dualism imposed by the parties.

If the country insists on propagating a culture of impunity and dependency on politicians we are doomed. As Albert Camus put it, “Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle.”

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