The timing of the Conference for National Unity, held on the 27 February and organised by the Office of the President of Malta George Vella, was unfortunate for two reasons.
The first was that in the days leading up to the conference, not only were there major developments in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, but there were also a string of revelations about junior minister Rosianne Cutajar’s alleged dealings with Yorgen Fenech, who stands charged with being the mastermind of the journalist’s assassination.
The second unfortunate thing is that while the government was busy issuing statements and broadcasting press conferences related to these events, a number of pro-government propagandists took this as their cue to attack those who question or criticise the government in a pattern that has become all too familiar.
A lot of the recent attacks against government critics centre around the statements made by Prime Minister Robert Abela and Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà.
On 23 February, Abela addressed a press conference where he hailed the latest developments in the Caruana Galizia murder case as evidence that the country’s institutions are strong and working effectively. “This is a country where the rule of law really prevails,” he told a press conference.
The following day Gafà also held a press conference to state that the police believe every person involved in the journalist’s murder has been caught. “With the evidence we have, we are in a position to say that every person involved, be it mastermind or accomplice, is under arrest or facing charges,” Gafà said, although he stopped short of saying that the police now consider the case closed.
These statements were immediately challenged both locally by members of the Opposition, by activists and NGOs as well as by numerous international observers, prompting government mouthpieces to try to isolate and stifle any form of dissent.
A recurring pattern
The day before the Unity Conference started, Jason Micallef, chairman of the Valletta Cultural Agency and executive chairman of the Labour Party’s One Productions, and who has a history of very controversial, some would say inflammatory, comments, described the rule of law NGO Repubblika as “extremists” for organising a protest.
Not content with labelling them “extremists” just once, he went on to reiterate his definition of the NGO the next day (the conference was well underway, at that point).
Career propagandist, Karl Stagno Navarra, a known fraudster with a string of cases against him in court and who is paid by taxpayers to push the government’s agenda using his programme on the Labour Party’s TV station to attack government critics and journalists, was up bright and early on the day of the Conference on National Unity doing just that.
This news portal and its founding editor, Caroline Muscat, have been at the receiving end of Stagno Navarra’s attacks before, and have now been singled out again while the State was preaching unity. At the same time, Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia was insisting that he was right in denying access to its journalists to scrutinise the tax declarations of MPs.
Stagno Navarra takes a comment by Caroline Muscat, who challenges the correctness of leaks to selected media outlets within hours of one of the assassins being given a presidential pardon, and goes on to imply that she is actually encouraging this questionable behaviour. Whether the sarcasm in Muscat’s post was missed intentionally or otherwise, it is noteworthy that in the image he uploaded he calls on the Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM), to do what, exactly, no one knows.
And when one of The Shift’s columnists noted that, despite the police commissioner’s statement, the case was far from closed, Stagno Navarro once again took to social media to criticise the newsroom. He was joined by one of Facebook’s favourite angry men, Tony Zarb, who in two separate posts, first praised the President of Malta for working towards national unity and then went on to criticise The Shift saying its members have “poisonous DNA”. So much for unity.
They underscore the fact that for many whose job it is to forward the administration’s discourse, “unity” equates with “unquestioning support”.
The Shift remains a particularly inconvenient platform for some – too many facts revealed, too many feathers ruffled, too many truths laid bare.