When silence means consent

You can easily laugh off taunts levelled at critics of this corrupt government calling us ‘Flat Earthers’ living in ‘a parallel universe’.

To any objective outsider, these insults reek of playground bullying, but their patent absurdity is chilling in the context of Malta. Masquerading as a European country but devoid of European values, we have a well-oiled and well-financed government propaganda machine with direct control of popular media outlets.

The lack of political independence in the media saw Malta placed on a high risk level by the recent Media Pluralism Report. Public service media were seen as particularly at risk due to the precedence of commercial and owners’ interests over editorial content, the absence of safeguards to prevent the influence of commercial interests on the hiring and firing of editors-in-chief, advertorials presented as truth, cross-media concentration of ownership, and the lack of protection for whistleblowers.

The increasing risk attached to freedom of expression was a direct result of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Shortly after her murder, PN MP Simon Busuttil – among those who face regular attacks in parliament, on Twitter, and on pro-government secret Facebook hate groups whose members include politicians and PEPs – spoke out against government control of the media:

‘The government controls PBS, Super One is an assassination of characters, the former editor of L-Orizzont, who was not a fan of freedom of speech, is employed at Castille, and the government tries to buy independent media with adverts, and when the media doesn’t ring the government’s bell, they stop advertising with them.’

Ex-One reporters are given government positions despite their lack of qualifications. This was highlighted during the massive personal data breach by the Lands Authority when responsibility for its investigation was given to the 29-year old Mayor of Mqabba, an ex-One TV reporter with no particular experience in auditing.

Not content with stuffing unqualified government media puppets into positions of public responsibility, Facebook is exploited as yet another propaganda tool. The perfect target, given that Malta registers the second highest social media usage in Europe, with Facebook the most popular.

The Maltese government spent €1.28 million of public funds on social media adverts between March 2013 and September 2017.

Last month, Lovin Malta also reported on a spate of fake news ads saturating our Facebook feeds. Boasting about fake government successes, the aim was for the adverts to go viral. The government made no response until a month later – comments were both abrupt and evasive.

The government’s assurance that it’s taking the matter ‘very seriously’ by filing a police report has to be offset by the fact that we have a Police Commissioner absolutely failing in his duty.

Last week’s ruling by Judge Grixti underscores this as an attempt to block investigations into the clear-cut money-laundering activities of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

Overriding the legal stipulation for the accused to prove their innocence, Konrad Mizzi and his political cronies wasted no time in rushing to social media to gloat about their ‘victory’.

The words of the Venice Commission reverberate: Malta is not a functioning democracy.

As writers, journalists and critics who expose corruption, we only have truth to protect us in a post-truth world. And we’re pitted against dark intentions, ever-present and there to remind us in the forms of threatened libel cases and SLAPP suits.

Two cyber attacks on the Shift News occurred immediately following the publication of investigative stories revealing details of an agreement the government had kept hidden. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had justified this on the grounds it was “a private deal,” yet the findings show it was a very much in the public’s interest to learn what those the government had entrusted with our hospitals were doing with taxpayers’ money.

It is a further sign, if one were needed, that the shady interests being exposed will stop at nothing to conceal their crimes.

The International Federation of Journalists reported the attacks on The Shift News to the Council of Europe, and it was the third report on The Shift News registered as a threat by Mapping Media Freedom in a year. The government has ignored both this and demands for immediate investigation by the ECPMF.

The government’s silence emanates from a country in which, 15 months ago, Daphne Caruana Galizia was irrevocably silenced.

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