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Disinformation Watch #4: ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the state’

The Shift News shows the government’s favourite targets, how it spreads its disinformation and how it compares to similar disinformation campaigns run by other populists.

Posted in pro-Muscat Facebook group 'Progressivi Qawra'.

In a disinformation strategy as old as populism itself, the government and the State become one. This allows the Prime Minister and his aides to reject criticism of bad governance as an attack on the nation itself.

This distorted image allows government officials and Labour activists to cast those who criticise them as traitors or, in that well-known Stalinist phrase, ‘enemies of the people’.

When Nationalist Party MEPs David Casa, Roberta Metsola and Francis Zammit Dimech speak out in the European Parliament against the corruption of tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, Labour’s online trolls enter overdrive, describing the three MEPs as “traitors”, “Malta’s shame”, and calls for them to be stoned and burnt alive.

An investigation by The Shift News exposed secret pro-Muscat groups – totalling some 60,000 members – revealing they were used to manufacture hate against dissidents and political opponents and target citizens.

The Shift News found in Labour’s hate groups that a particular animosity is reserved for Casa and Metsola, with multiple and repeated calls for Metsola to be sexually assaulted and memes depicting Casa as a green goblin and as Adolf Hitler in retaliation for their “treason”.

Insults hurled at the MEPs included “traitor bitch”, “whore”, “pufta”, “trash”, “filth”, “shameful”, alongside calls for them to be “removed”, attacked when they go to Malta, and for them to “go fuck” themselves.

This narrative made it into the mainstream media via Labour-owned One News, which ran headlines including “Metsola ddur Brussell titkellem kontra Malta” (Metsola goes around Brussels speaking against Malta) and “Okkażjoni oħra fejn MEP’s nazzjonalisti jitkellmu kontra Malta” (Other occasions when Nationalist Party MEPs spoke against Malta).

When the critic is non-Maltese, say a foreign politician or a journalist, the accusation is that they are Malta’s enemies, jealous of Malta’s success and out to destroy it.

The misogyny cuts across borders.

On Saturday, following a one-day visit to Malta by MEPs looking into rule of law concerns, Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar took to Twitter to ‘challenge’ Socialist MEP Ana Gomes after the delegation leader expressed concern on the situation in the country.

“More time has passed,” Gomes said. “We would have expected that members of the government who have been exposed as corrupt, as liars, including to us, would not be in office anymore.”

On Twitter, Cutajar said MEPs like Gomes, and Greens MEP Sven Geigold were “not interested in genuinely investigating the rule of law in Malta, they just want to make a name out of Malta and attack indirectly our tax system”.

Cutajar told her Socialist counterpart in Brussels – a long-standing politician with a long list of achievements – that she had found her “match”. Her argument? Cutajar linked the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal in 2007. To which Gomes replied, “Disgusting”.

Madeleine McCann

Last November, the European Parliament discussed corruption in the Maltese government, Pilatus Bank and Caruana Galizia’s assassination. Labour’s hate groups went into overdrive again, accusing “Europe” of being “jealous of our Joseph [Muscat]” and the prosperity he has created.

The Shift News has shown how ‘hero worship’ is part of the Labour Party’s populist strategy.

Former Labour Prime Minister and current Labour MEP Alfred Sant continued to drive the narrative into the mainstream media, claiming that the European Parliament’s dim view of the Maltese government was cover for a plan to bring Malta’s exceptionally low effective corporate tax rate in line with the EU average and so destroy its economy.

They were aided by the collusion of “Malta-bashing” Maltese MEPs, Sant said.

Foreign journalists are also seen as part of the anti-Malta cabal. The interview the Prime Minister gave to a foreign journalist, BBC Newsnight’s John Sweeney, was universally described as a PR disaster for Muscat, earning him the title ‘Artful Dodger of Europe’.

His consultant Tony Zarb – who called female activists “prostitutes” – was quick to exclaim, “BBC HANDS OF [sic] MALTA!!”.

Posted in pro-Muscat Facebook group ‘Progressivi Qawra’.

Under fire for his attack on Malta’s rule of law, Muscat continues to say his critics are attacking Malta. His first public response to the international consortium of journalists working under the ‘Daphne Project’ banner was a call for Party loyalists to turn out in great numbers in defence of Malta at his 1 May political rally.

Muscat’s disinformation strategy is common and old, having been used by populists the world over on various occasions. US President Donald Trump repeatedly denounces the free press and recently called them “enemies of the people”, echoing Stalin.

Hungary’s right-wing populist prime minister Viktor Orbán is engaged in an ongoing fight with his critics both domestically and internationally, describing them as “enemies of freedom” and his relationship with the media as a “battle” for Hungary.

Malta’s own former Labour Prime Minister, the late Dom Mintoff, was fond of shouting “Malta L-Ewwel u Qabel Kollox!” (Malta first and foremost), which is currently enjoying a revival among Muscat’s colleagues, including Labour MP and Prime Minister aide Glenn Bedingfield.

Old as it may be, the strategy remains pernicious. Muscat’s nationalist-populist behaviour serves to mobilise Maltese people and pitch them against each other, to consolidate the perception that he is Malta and to separate the national interest from democratic principles of free speech, free association and open debate.

This is the fourth episode in The Shift News Disinformation Watch.Click here for more.

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