President George Vella called for an end to politically motivated hate speech on 4 June. “Many were too quick to resort to hurtful remarks,” he said, “this is tearing at the fabric of Maltese society”. Quick enough, Jason Micallef was tearing that ragged fabric apart. “Traitor, enemy of Malta,” he yelled at lawyer Claire Bonello.
Bonello, an environmental campaigner, had simply spoken the truth in a short interview on ARTE’s documentary ‘Malta: a concrete paradise’. The enlightened Valletta cultural agency chairman was baying for her blood. “Clare, you should be ashamed of yourself,” he fired. The man who single-handedly harmed Malta more than most accused her of “actively participating in deceitful foreign productions to harm Malta and the Maltese”.
“Disgraceful and appalling” he charged. “Traitor and an enemy of Malta and the Maltese, that’s what you are,” he concluded.
Now Micallef is not your common troll. He’s the executive chairman of One TV, the Labour Party’s ‘news’ organisation. But he’s also chairperson of Valletta Cultural Agency whose aims include protecting Valletta’s cultural heritage and upholding standards of excellence. Sadly the one thing Micallef excels in is coarse vulgarity.
The President’s exhortation to Prime Minister Robert Abela was “to stop politically motivated hate that was spewed on social media platforms such as Facebook”. Abela might not be able to tame Micallef’s hostile outbursts, but he could certainly sack him from his role as chairperson of our capital’s cultural agency. At least then he would only embarrass himself, not his capital, his country or his fellow citizens.
He’s done enough of that already. Micallef is a regular destroyer of the national fabric. In August 2020, he launched into a scathing attack on philanthropist Bjorn Formosa. Like Bonello, Formosa had dared voice his concern. In his case, the timing of a Malta Community Chest Fund fundraiser clashed with his own previously announced event.
Micallef was at his throat: “utterly irresponsible”, “you’re worse than vile”, “he is strengthening his hostile attack”, “he deserves the strongest condemnation, the harshest disdain”. Formosa’s wife Maria, politely pointed out that “Bjorn at no point attacked l-Istrina or the Community Chest Fund”. But there’s no reasoning with Micallef’s mindless rage.
He even regularly attacks the free press. As recently as 10 March, he called Lovin Malta “scribbling amateurs” (ħarbiexa dilettanti). He referred to the independent media as “bootlickers”. He called the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia “an assassin who excels in character assassination, a trait that he inherited,” referring to his assassinated mother.
It was for his public mockery of Daphne Caruana Galizia that Jason Micallef drew worldwide condemnation. He couldn’t even get his sarcastic derisive post right: “The situation is desperate. There is happy people every where you look”.
Hundreds of writers, including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan, expressed profound concern to European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker about Micallef’s divisiveness and insensitivity. Over 100 art professionals wrote to Owen Bonnici demanding Micallef’s removal for his “derogatory” and “partisan” commentary causing “irreparable damage to the reputation of Valletta 18”. Over 70 MEPs endorsed that letter. The European City of Culture Committee and the European Commission rebuked Micallef referring to his behaviour as “undignified and unacceptable”.
The town of Leeuwarden, which shared the European capital of culture with Valletta, boycotted Malta in protest at Micallef’s mocking of Caruana Galizia’s last words. Dutch journalists grilled then culture minister Owen Bonnici who refused to take action against Micallef.
The European Commission December 2019 report, concluded that Micallef’s comments “caused considerable damage to the European capital of culture’s international reputation as well as to Valletta and Malta generally”. Ulrich Fuchs accused him of “destroying European values”.
The EC report exposed “political interference that affected the artistic vision of V18”. Micallef had sacked artistic director Wayne Marshall and all seven artistic programme directors. Executive director Karsten Xuereb and programme coordinator Margarita Pule were also fired. The report concluded that this “had been detrimental to the implementation of projects”.
Jason Micallef had been appointed V18 chairman within days of Labour’s 2013 election victory. The eminently qualified former chairman David Felice was brutally axed. When Joseph Muscat was asked why the V18 chairman was replaced with an inappropriate and incompetent Jason Micallef, Muscat’s cocky reply was “Why not?”.
But Muscat reassured us that once Micallef took over the post full time he would resign his chairmanship of One productions. Of course, Micallef never intended to do that and never did. Muscat has been kicked out, while Micallef remains at the helm of both Valletta Cultural Agency and One.
Instead of heeding the multiple requests to sack Micallef, the Labour government rewarded him. Ian Borg appointed him co-ordinator of Ta’ Qali National Park earning €18,000 euro for “liaisoning (sic) between stakeholders involved in upgrading the Park”.
A special clause was inserted into the law setting up the Valletta Cultural Agency to allow Micallef to be appointed chairman. No wonder PEN International was “dismayed” at Joseph Muscat’s deception. Muscat had promised them he would consider calling for Micallef’s resignation – instead he rewarded him.
Jason Micallef is a relic from Labour’s dark past of the Foreign Interference Act. Dom Mintoff had introduced the act, forcibly isolating the country to suppress freedom and retain power. The Act aimed “to regulate the limitations on the political activities” including “broadcasts transmitted from a station outside Malta”. That Act made it criminal “for any citizen of Malta to participate in any such broadcast”. Claire Bonello would be liable to a substantial fine and six months’ imprisonment. And how pleased would Micallef be?
In 1985, the Council of Europe passed Resolution 841. It expressed concern that Labour’s act trampled on human rights, particularly freedom of expression. Micallef remains stuck in Labour’s time warp of instinctive repression, stifling free speech while claiming it for himself. Stuck with him is Robert Abela, who protects Micallef as he soils the country’s reputation unchecked.