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False neutrality isn’t non-partisan

The Council of Europe said this. Muscat said that. Which is true? It’s anyone’s guess.

That isn’t reporting the news. It’s avoiding your responsibilities.

The press has an obligation to research a topic, to go deep into the weeds, to expose the lies, misdirection, and cover ups, and then tell that complicated story in a way the average time-harassed reader can understand.

I go to my favourite columnists because I want them to tell me how I should think about an issue. I may not agree with them, of course. In the end it’s up to me as a reader to decide. But I will be doing that as an informed reader. And that’s the crucial difference.

If you print whatever some politician wants you to print without analysing it, you aren’t reporting the news, you’re just broadcasting and amplifying propaganda.

The Nazi Party perfected such tactics in the 1930s. They had their own newspaper — Völkischer Beobachter — where they printed highly manipulated content that promoted the Party line. They used their media outlet to spread hate agains the Jews, and against anyone who opposed them. And they presented National Socialism as the solution to all of Germany’s cultural and economic woes.

Party-controlled newspapers stirring up hate? That sounds a lot like Malta.

In Malta, the media is controlled by political parties to an extent not seen anywhere else in the European Union or North America. You might expect a Party rag, or a television station owned by a Party, to promote their agenda. And you would be correct.

But when the few independent media outlets in the country also uncritically parrot government press releases without context or analysis, they are acting as propagandists too. And they’re doing their readers an enormous disservice.

Does this mean they should criticise both sides equally in order to demonstrate how impartial they are? No.

For one thing, there are more than just two sides to an issue. Life isn’t a series of binary choices, and that’s true no matter how hard people try to push a square peg into a Red or Blue hole.

But it goes beyond this. The governing Party in any country gets the brunt of the criticism because they’re the ones making decisions.

That’s why a sports commentator criticises the performance of the person running with the ball, not the player sitting on the sidelines sipping Gatorade from a plastic cup.

In government, the ruling Party has the ball, and journalists are the commentators tasked with evaluating their performance. Great power brings great responsibility, and those who wield such power do so on behalf of the people. They must be held accountable.

Yes, the opposition must also be called out when they fail to do their job. And the job of a parliamentary opposition is to both hold the ruling Party to account, and to propose alternative policies so voters can judge which solution they like best.

But trying to apply the same degree of criticism to both sides in the hope of promoting a misguided sense of equality is disingenuous. You aren’t being fair. You’re hiding behind a false facade of neutrality because you’re afraid to take a stand.

Journalists who do take a clear position on these issues in Malta, who call out corruption without watering it down, are often targeted with malicious libel suits, threats, social media hate campaigns, and public harassment by fanatical followers of a political Party. It’s completely unreasonable, and it’s shocking that this is tolerated and encouraged in a European Union country.

I understand why a journalist might hide behind a position of false neutrality to avoid being subjected to such abuse. But you’re still choosing the coward’s option. If you’re afraid to take a stand for the truth under your own name, then you should probably find a different profession.

Still, I suppose that’s better than being a willing pawn who makes a big show of virtue signalling one’s “non-partisan journalism” by dutifully parroting whatever each side wants you to say.

The Shift is often criticised for focusing on the shady dealings of the Labour Party in power rather than writing more about the complete shambles of the Nationalist Party in opposition, as though this were some sort of partisan plot. It isn’t. It’s an example of the commentator focusing on the player who has the ball.

Nor is it partisan or biased to refer to the recent Valletta ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration as “anti-government.”

The concerned citizens and activist groups who took to the streets last Saturday were protesting against out of control development, which is the policy of the current government. The current government is also the only power that can put a stop to it.

The event was rightfully described as “non-partisan” because it welcomed concerned citizens of all political persuasions. But if you were protesting against the policy of paving over Malta’s future, of selling out to Concrete King Sandro Chetcuti and his greedy friends, then you were protesting against the government.

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