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Disinformation Watch #31: On calls for votes for those who ‘love the country’

David Casa and Roberta Metsola

For anyone “to come here and give the impression that some members of this committee called anyone a traitor is uncalled for and a blatant lie,” Labour MEP Miriam Dalli told the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) last week.

She said this at a meeting that was held on the same day as Justice Minister Owen Bonnici was being grilled by MEPs from the special committee on financial crime and tax avoidance in the European Parliament.

Bonnici made it clear he was not too pleased at having to be there – not that he said this to the MEPs questioning him. He returned to Malta, and then the government’s attacks on those who criticise it intensified – and it was specifically the word “traitor” that was used.

Dalli ‘forgot’ to inform the European Parliament of what her fellow MEPs in Malta were being called by her Party’s foot soldiers, through the once-secret pro-Muscat online hate groups exposed by The Shift News.

The pro-government trolls spurred Labour supporters to “punish the traitors” by not voting for them in the upcoming European Parliament elections. And it’s not the first time the PN’s most popular MEPs were targeted in the run up to the European elections.

Disinformation Malta government traitors
One of the pro-government posts on social media calling Opposition MEPs ‘traitors’ for questioning the government before the European Parliament.

The Justice Minister himself came back to Malta whining about the fact that the Tax 3 committee should not be asking Malta about the rule of law. He said the TAX3 committee was all about tax and not about economic crimes, money laundering and the rest of the matters he faced. Yet, the Justice Minister knows that these issues are entirely within the committee’s remit.

Appearing on the Party’s TV station, he complained that this was the work of those who “did not love Malta,” pointing a finger at Opposition MEPs for attacking the country.

“This committee that discusses tax ended up discussing rule of law and other things and the Nationalist Party MEPs provoked as much as they could that then led to other European MEPs saying ‘ah, we cannot even trust Malta with taxes’. This unnecessary blabbing and repeated provocation that leads to serious allegations against the country only serves to damage investment in the country.”

While the Justice Minister continues to provide those at the European Parliament he obviously perceives as “foreigners”, as opposed to fellow Europeans, with half-truths on the strength of democracy in Malta, one of the first things he did on returning was to criticise the questioning of the government and blaming the Opposition and critics for the state of affairs.

“But we won’t let them. And then David Casa comes to (the European) Parliament to say that nothing in Malta works, not even the law courts. All this because his request to the court was denied,” he said referring to the highly controversial decision by the courts to close down avenues for investigation on the Panama Papers.

Bonnici’s defence of freedom of expression revolves only around those the government cannot touch for reasons only known to its closest circles – he defended V18 chairman Jason Micallef despite a diplomatic rift and he even defended Law Commissioner Franco Debono’s freedom of expression when he called Prime Minister Joseph Muscat “the most corrupt politician in Malta’s history”.

“Foreigners” may not get the political connotations of his defence of Debono, who the Labour Party used to overthrow a Nationalist government. But Bonnici’s defence of these two mavericks stands in stark contrast to his regular orders for the removal of any tributes to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia at the protest memorial in Valletta that has been cleared well over 100 times, sending government workers in the dead of night to remove candles and flowers and erase any trace of her memory.

Bonnici was following the Prime Minister’s lead. Just a day before Dalli and Bonnici made their statements at the European Parliament, Joseph Muscat was also “urging PN voters to choose candidates who truly love the country”.

Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli quotes Muscat’s dog-whistle to voters to shun “traitors” at the May 2019 MEP elections.

Bonnici, in line with the government’s strategy, used legitimate criticism on corruption and the failure of the rule of law, also confirmed by the Venice Commission, to fan the flames of hate to garner votes for the Labour Party in the next MEP elections in May.

The Party’s TV station spread the message with headlines such as, ‘PN MEPs spent a week undermining Malta’ (l-MEPs PN għamlu gimgħa jaħdmu kontra Malta).

“Do you understand the significance of a Maltese person saying this in front of foreign MEPs? So I will follow up on what Miriam Dalli said that when it comes to European election time in May, we need to choose those who love Malta. We need to chose those who, when in front of foreigners, will praise Malta. The proof of that is not what we say among ourselves, it’s what we say in front of foreigners,” Bonnici said on the Labour Party’s TV station.

owen bonnici
One of the Justice Minister’s social media posts ‘in defence of Malta’ that continues to target Opposition MEPs.

The Party’s propaganda machine also stressed that Bonnici and Dalli were “delivering the truth on Malta” while Metsola was rejoicing at Malta’s dark chapter. Attacks were not limited to Maltese Opposition MEPs as Socialist MEP Ana Gomes (hailing from the same political family as the Labour Party) and Greens MEP Sven Geigold were also targeted for their interventions.

He then wrote an opinion piece in the Maltese press entitled ‘Defending Malta’ in which he said: “It is a pity that some are so keen to harm our country for local partisan reasons. Whenever my colleagues or I are representing Malta, we always do our utmost to do whatever is necessary to defend and safeguard our country, which unfortunately cannot be said for the representatives of the party in Opposition”.

Labelled traitors by Malta gov
Socialist MEP Ana Gomes and Greens MEP Sven Geigold are also regularly targeted in pro-Muscat online hate groups.

Bonnici sounded like Muscat in his hey day campaigning against the EU – not that the Prime Minister uses those words now while he mingles in European circles hoping he can get back the job he lost because of the Egrant scandal and his protection of those closest to him exposed hastily setting up Panama companies a few days after the election, before they had even chosen a Cabinet for the country.

Now, Muscat gets his elected representatives to say one thing to “foreigners” and another thing to the country, aided by relics engaged as “consultants” such as former GWU Head Tony Zarb whose creative imagination is limited to ‘crap’ in his social media posts.

tony zarb crap

Zarb was once again granted a comfortable salary from taxpayers ostensibly as a consultant to Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi but whose only visible role is to upload videos on social media ranting against “the traitors”.

The formula is simple: Pretend there’s no such thing as label-shaming and then proceed to add fuel to the fire. It’s the two-faced strategy that has served the government well.

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