The public broadcaster is taking orders from the Labour Party’s propaganda department.
Government communication aides — ‘persons of trust’, naturally — were desperate to make the arrival of the FSU tanker into Marsaxlokk harbour look like the second coming of the Santa Maria Convoy.
After all, they couldn’t have critics greeting what people were calling ‘that floating bomb’ with laughter, or cries of ‘where the hell have you been?’
The elderly refurbished ship broke down multiple times on its way over from Singapore — once right after it left the harbour. And the entire power-station-no-one-needed was already two years overdue.
They wanted the media to be ‘on their side’ for this one. And that meant feeding a self-congratulatory version of the story to outlets which weren’t obvious Party hacks, but that wouldn’t ask any questions, either.
Parrots were called for, and parrots were made.
Queue up OPM Projects Division officials Lindsey Gambin (ex Labour TV) and Alex Cutajar (ex Team Konrad Mizzi) to transform murder ballad into hero’s journey, all while carefully framing unfinished ugliness out of the video shoot.
They chummed the waters by running “some features relating to gas safety” so no one would be too alarmed to see a colossus filled with potentially explosive material towed into a busy harbour.
And then they made sure their follow up narrative passed without critical examination by running it on Christmas Day, when everyone was either desperate to unwrap their presents, or knocked unconscious with a food coma.
But they knew no one outside the blinded Party faithful would take this nonsense seriously if it dribbled out on One TV. No, Gambin thought it would be wiser to “give the story to a newsroom” — but only to a newsroom they could control.
Their first choice?
Your strictly impartial public broadcaster.
The leaked emails show PBS’ ‘news coordinator’ was “always open to ideas and suggestions as to how best to work” — in other words, ready and willing to have that news dictated by the government.
PBS was recently given a funding increase — €30 million more from your taxes over five years — but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
It’s also a coincidence that a private company — Electrogas — ran to the government anytime they received questions from the media, and that their replies were scripted by the OPM.
The casual reader might see two problems here.
One, that political party ownership of national media is only normal in totalitarian countries like North Korea, or in Communist States, not in liberal democracies. And two, that the public broadcaster is legally required to be neutral and clearly wasn’t.
In Malta, political party media creates and disseminates propaganda to an audience that’s been conditioned by generations of bitter tribalism to distrust any information coming from “the other side”. And when the Party in power sees laws as something to be gotten around rather than obeyed, it’s easy to take over the constitutionally impartial public broadcaster, too.
But the problem is much deeper than Labour’s usual manipulation of the country’s institutions for partisan gain.
The problem here is you — those who accept this as normal, and those who like it because they think it helps them “win”.
Why read, listen and evaluate to form your own opinion when you can just fire back a scripted retort, like “Stop being negative” or “Wait for the inquiry (never ending, by design)” or “What about Charlie, he did it, too?”
Screw ‘the greater good’. I’m only worried about what you’re going to give me right now.
Keep your Party in power, and they’ll keep giving you money, building permits and non-jobs. That’s how it works.
Such interactions take on the form of a football fandom or festa pika. No one stops to question how much their team is costing them and their children as long as they feel like they’re winning.
In part, this penchant for propaganda comes from a mistaken notion that perception is reality. As long as you can control what the majority of people believe, then you can control reality.
Even better if you can get people to thank you for screwing them.
How does it feel to be Konrad Mizzi or Joseph Muscat, adored by cheering crowds for giving them the perception of cheaper electricity, all the while knowing you sold them out to Azerbaijan for a few million euro in your bank account?
Do Konnie and Joey really believe it when some poor old person gushes their thanks at a mass rally? Or are they laughing at how gullible you are, and how easy it was to fleece you?
Joseph Muscat isn’t a suspect. Vitals is “the real deal”. And a country with an economy the size of Aberdeen really is the envy of foreigners who couldn’t point it out on a map.
You know it’s true because the Party media and the public broadcaster repeated it over and over.
Controlling the message works so well in Malta because Kink & Co. know their followers don’t want the truth. They just want to feel like they’re winning.
The illusion is maintained and the show can go on, as long as your rulers can keep hiding the price.
Unfortunately, even Kinks are subject to natural laws. It’s only possible to pretend for so long before reality comes knocking with a blacklist and a pair of handcuffs.
The people of Malta are living beyond their means. It turns out Golden Joey’s magic touch — and the crumbs he put in your pocket — came from the proceeds of crime.
You’re an accessory to those crimes, even if all you did was look the other way like so many ministers and public officials. And the consequences are hurtling towards you.
It will take an almighty conflagration to cleanse the rot so many are still desperately wallowing in.
I hope you’re still standing when they sift through the ashes. Someone will have to rebuild.