Doctors are trained to heal. They have the capability to heal. And we expect them to. Wherever there is illness and ameliorable suffering, doctors must act. Ability unconditionally implies commensurate responsibilities. In the domain of duty, if you can, you must.
Like human life, democracy is priceless yet fragile. Conscientious citizens have the ability to heal and a duty to protect it. In the domain of duty, if you can, you must.
With its regrettable tendency to personality cults, our country and its democracy are particularly vulnerable. A deep unease about where our democracy is heading makes complacency perilous.
The current erosion of our democracy is manifested in Labour’s systematic organised efforts to subjugate. Its strategy is based on three key elements. First, it smothers public discourse through intimidation, inducements and deflection. Secondly, it stifles criticism through majoritarianism, justifying corrupt and damaging actions through overwhelming support at the polls. Thirdly, it severely restricts access to information, concealing the truth from the people, putatively in the latter’s interest.
Let’s consider the first of these three. Those who dare criticise are routinely pilloried on Labour’s media. One News churns out lies and fabrications about objectors. The Broadcasting authority repeatedly ordered the station to retract its disinformation.
Karl Stagno Navarra was condemned by the authority for publicly targeting private citizens who had the temerity to express contrarian views. He listed, on a whiteboard, the names of private citizens who commented critically on social media. Party trolls contaminate social media to denigrate, insult and ridicule those critical of the government.
Cabinet ministers regularly abuse journalists. Ian Borg accused a journalist of having “a negative attitude” and “an attitude problem”. He opined that if he were her editor, he would long have sacked her. Clint Camilleri called journalists “a bunch of imbeciles” as he entered Castille.
Joseph Muscat answered journalists’ questions with “none of your business” and “keep speaking to yourself”. Silvio Schembri singled out a journalist for online harassment. Glenn Bedingfield intimidated Mario Frendo. The institute of journalists (IGM) condemned Robert Abela for attacking journalists for asking probing questions.
In the most outrageous attempt to silence critics, Glenn Bedingfield raised a breach of privilege against The Shift. He accused its staff of being unable to read Maltese, of having malicious intent and of misinformation. He tweeted that the Shift lied maliciously. The Speaker rejected Bedingfield’s complaint that the Shift “intended to harm the honour of the Prime Minister”, but took the opportunity to hector the media. He referred to the title of the article as “utterly infelicitous”. He warned journalists to be “prudent” and “faithful to the word and the spirit” of what is said in parliament.
The government’s most powerful tool to control debate is money. It decides how state-funded advertising is dished out ensuring media houses are kept in check. One million euro in COVID financial aid to news media providers was allocated in complete secrecy. Freedom of information requests about how funds were allocated were turned down. Truly independent media providers are excluded from press conferences and other events in a coercive attempt to stifle dissent.
The appointment of partisan political apparatchiks to key positions with the national broadcaster, such as head of news Norma Saliba, is a blatant effort to control the news. Not surprisingly, TVM has been found guilty of impartiality having failed to report issues that embarrass the government, such as the Vitals court hearing.
When things are desperate, Labour simply uses taxpayers’ money to buy favourable coverage. Disgraced MFSA CEO Joseph Cuschieri paid Maltatoday’s Saviour Balzan thousands of euro for “positive content”. MFSA refused to publish details or declare the total amount paid despite its legal obligation.
Balzan was also awarded €20,000 by Minister Edward Zammit Lewis for consultancy and communications services. He is paid thousands more each week by PBS for his weekly programme Xtra, characterised by interminable unintelligible soliloquies by the presenter.
Minister Ian Borg paid Balzan €17,000 euro to counter opposition to the Central Link project. Balzan also agreed, according to The Times, to conduct a “controlled interview” about the scandalous Electrogas power station project.
In a democracy the ruling party, the government, the state and the nation are distinct. But Labour strategically fuses them into one. The prime minister makes public statements of national interest on his party station. Joseph Muscat walked out of Castille to address a Labour Party mass meeting eliminating the distinction between government, state and party. Muscat and his wife Michelle chanted partisan political anthems at the prime ministerial official residence of Girgenti.
Over 700 people were politically appointed, including a security guard at the Addolorata cemetery, a forklift operator and a maintenance officer. When the party becomes the government which becomes the state, criticism of the party and government becomes treasonous.
The intimidating nationalistic rhetoric intended to silence our representatives at the European Parliament is based on the fusion of government and nation, party and state.“Whoever betrays his country is rejected even by a rubbish dump,” Judge Philip Sciberras commented about MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa.
Robert Abela uses ‘Team Malta’ to stigmatize those critical of his government. The prime minister’s message, amplified by both PBS and One, and avidly propagated by his supporters is simple – those who criticise him and his party, hate their country. And do not deserve to be part of the nation. Those who expose the truth are enemies of the people. Those who resist will be justifiably crushed. Traitors deserve ostracisation and abuse.
The public sphere is the very medium of democracy. When the free and limitless possibility of public conversation is stifled, the resulting silence is an ominous indication that democracy is fundamentally threatened. Passive indifference will hasten the inexorable slide towards electoral despotism.
The responsibility of vigilance against the repression of free speech rests on every decent citizen who must be the watchman ever alert to mischief. If you can, you must.