August is usually a slow month for most but disinformation never really goes on holiday. Among the big stories that dominate the headlines, there are always those little (or not so little) disinformation nuggets thrown in for good measure.
Where do you draw the line?
The targets of the Labour Party’s media outlets are usually members of the opposition, government critics, journalists as well as activists, but if there was any further need to prove the callousness with which pro-government media deploys its platforms, we can look at how they tried to discredit a former prisoner.
During an interview with The Sunday Times of Malta, Anthony Borg, a former prison inmate, went public with claims of mistreatment at Corradino Correctional Facility and for anyone with a shred of empathy, the claims made by Borg are extremely disturbing.
And yet not long after Borg’s interview, the General Workers’ Union newspaper and the Labour Party One News saw fit to publish an audio clip of the same prisoner shouting at guards some years prior in an attempt to discredit what he said during the interview, while GWU owned media outlet, inewsmalta, and print newspaper L-Orizzont published photos of “provocative scribbles” from within Corradino Correctional Facility.
In a Facebook post, prison activist and former TV presenter Peppi Azzopardi claims that copies of the front page of L-Orizzont with the photos of the scribbles are now being placed on the notice boards in the various divisions within the prison in what he believes to be some form of intimidation tactic.
Is it not bad enough that Malta’s prisons are in dire need of urgent reforms? Are the authorities going to further weaponise Party media against one of society’s most vulnerable groups?
Rosianne Cutajar wants us to know she cares
Former parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar used her social media platforms to let us know that she cares about Afghan women together with the many activists, journalists and humanitarian organisations around the world.
Cutajar tweeted “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free. #AfghanWomen #Afghanistan #AfghanLivesMatter”.
Given the level of public debate in Malta, it is unlikely that we’re ready to address the problems with borrowing quotes from American civil rights activists without crediting them or repurposing the recognisable slogan of ‘Black Lives Matter’ that belongs to a very specific group fighting a very specific issue and using the slogan’s recognisability for a different purpose.
Did Cutajar have to plaster her campaign logo on a photo taken by Afghani photographer Parwiz Romal for Reuters (unless she has paid the royalties) to show us she cares? Is she going to campaign with her colleagues at the Home Affairs Ministry to resettle Afghan refugees or is the consideration of that one family enough to quell her concerns?
Nobody's free if you exploit them as political marketing collateral, @RosianneCutajar. Afghani photographer @ParwizRomal shot that photo you branded with your political campaign logo without paying @reuterspictures
for publication rights. #scrounger https://t.co/TbVstuSf9u
— Corinne Vella (@Corinne_Vella) August 17, 2021
Prominent platforms for pernicious people
Anti-vaxxers were very cross with The Shift for questioning the opinions expressed by a controversial medical practitioner on the Covid-19 vaccine during an interview. It was a curious reaction given that his interview was the most prominent story on the newsroom’s website on a day where the eyes of the world were locked on the events unfolding in Afghanistan.
Choosing to give prominent spots to controversial content is disappointing because, for most of the pandemic, most media outlets in Malta (bar one or two exceptions) reported clearly and effectively, unlike in Italy for example, where many mainstream news outlets were often criticised for printing sensational headlines about the vaccine side effects that played a big part in fuelling vaccine hesitancy among readers.
Medical professionals, in fact, distanced themselves from the views expressed by Dr Jean Karl Soler.
More broadly, studies have also shown that the continued influence effect of misinformation also means that people who have been exposed to misinformation often continue to believe in it, even after it has been discredited.
The problem of dis – and misinformation is becoming so entrenched and so difficult to adequately combat that researchers are now exploring the possibility of “pre-bunking” based on a psychological framework from the 1960s that aims to encourage pre-emptive resistance against unwanted persuasion attempts.
Environment as priority
Remember Prime Minister Robert Abela saying the environment is the government’s top priority? Such a priority in fact, that unless specifically asked, there has been little reaction by government officials to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that concludes beyond any reasonable doubt that the effects of climate change are a direct result of human activity.
The environment minister referred to recently-introduced initiatives, such as the Low Carbon Development Strategy and said the government will increase action where necessary.
Whether “government action” means more mature trees will be uprooted, more problematic green walls constructed, smart gardens or green spaces sanitised within an inch of their life while ignoring Natura 2000 sites, one cannot be certain but it would be a start if just for once, the environment minister didn’t foist his “environment in a pot” vision on the rest of the island but left Malta’s environment well alone.
Prescription period for tax evasion
The government plans to expand timeframes within which the police may investigate and prosecute tax crimes, as part of a raft of reforms to be eventually presented to the FATF next month, according to a recent report. Yet, the necessary parameters are already in place.
One senior official is quoted saying, “With the current prescription period we can only take action against someone based on their last tax return… we can’t go any further back than that and this limits us,” and added that even after the proposal becomes law, tax officials would still need “a few years” to build up a docket of cases to take to court and to prosecute.
Yet legal experts consulted by The Shift say it is settled law that in the case of tax evasion the offence continues until the tax dues are paid/returns regularised. If this were not the case, nobody would be charged with tax evasion since tax returns are always filed for the previous year and that would give the authorities just one year to investigate whether there were any offences. How can you tell someone has been dodging taxes based on one tax return?
According to Art 23(12) of the Income Tax Management Act provides that the “offence [of tax evasion] shall continue to subsist until the offender shall have conformed and complied with the provisions of this article or of any rules referred to herein.”
The Courts of Malta have consistently referred to this provision (and the related provision on record-keeping, Art 23(12)) to hold that in tax-related offences this provision should prevail over the ordinary prescriptive period since this is a special law (lex specialis).