Culture of impunity allows deceit and dishonesty to run rampant

We’ve all been the victims of lies propagated by those who prefer the truth to remain hidden. The cyber war being waged against government critics over the past week is just one aspect of the way Malta’s politicians, activists and political supporters use deceit and fabrication to destroy those they wish to silence.

Just over a month ago, the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia issued a chilling verdict on the Labour regime in power since 2013: the State itself had fostered and enabled a culture of impunity that led directly to the relentless dehumanisation, harassment and eventual murder of a journalist simply doing her job.

The prime minister’s lack of action on the report’s recommendations couldn’t have been highlighted more starkly than by what’s been happening over the past week to independent newsrooms across Malta.

Just weeks after the inquiry’s damning conclusions were published, the media has come under attack, with their websites being cloned, fake articles being circulated, and supposed email and message exchanges between anti-government activists and MPs being forwarded to newsrooms under the guise of press releases.

Whoever the actual creators of the mirror sites and fake content actually are, Robert Abela must take ownership of this debacle. The events that have taken place over the past few days are the direct result of his failure to do his job in this critical time for Malta.

His immediate response to the inquiry’s report should have been the establishment of an independent committee to formulate a strategy for the rapid implementation of the recommendations made by the public inquiry determining the State’s role in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. And the protection of journalists, bloggers and the media as a whole from ever becoming the victims of targeted attacks like those carried out against Caruana Galizia should be first on that committee’s list.

The prime minister’s apathy and tardiness have meant the culture of impunity that turned Malta into a den of corruption and money laundering and led to the murder of the only journalist seriously trying to expose that wrongdoing is still as strong as it was four years ago.

The cloning of websites to publish fake news ostensibly issued by a trustworthy site is not a new problem, nor is it a particularly difficult one to solve. There’s been an element of over-reaction that is actually detracting from the seriousness of the problem.

The point is not that Manuel Delia has become a target for this kind of cyberbullying. Nor that Newsbook and Lovin Malta have also seen their websites cloned and fake content being bandied around the internet. Nor that PN MP Jason Azzopardi has been the target of several of the false press releases containing lies about him aimed at discrediting him with the public. Not even that Repubblika itself has fallen prey to the scammers.

It’s all wrong, of course. But the crucial point here is that the ugly environment that allows people to think they can get away with crimes such as these is still there, still as strong, still as unaddressed and still completely lacking any kind of remedial planning.

Nothing has changed. In this case, it’s absurdly clear that the malfeasance is clearly coming from the same general direction as that which sought to demonise Caruana Galizia, despite the few pathetic red herrings thrown in at the last minute.

But the issue of finding out who is behind the falsity shouldn’t be an impossible task. Malta’s police force has a cybercrime unit that should, theoretically, be able to pinpoint the malefactors fairly rapidly. PN MP Jason Azzopardi has said publicly that he knows exactly who is behind the whole caper, and that he even knows how much they’re paying to run this whole disinformation campaign.

If he does indeed know who the criminals behind this campaign are, then he should speak up about it. It’s become one of the nastiest and most disconcerting aspects of Maltese politics that MPs behave like village gossips, whispering half-truths, tapping the sides of their noses, claiming full knowledge but letting slip only teasing tidbits.

Of course, Delia, Newsbook, Lovin Malta and the rest of the newsrooms that fell prey to this barrage of deceit, reported the attacks to the police. Unfortunately, though, Abela’s failure to act on any of the recommendations of the public inquiry means also that the cybercrime unit, long underfunded and understaffed, is almost powerless to achieve any meaningful results.

And so, amid the inevitable uproar that has ensued, it might be worth viewing these most recent events using a broader lens than the one we’ve been operating so far.

Quite apart from the distress this has clearly caused to the victims, websites have long been manipulated to prop up or tear down a person’s credibility.

In 2018, The Shift reported on a fake news portal with stories aimed at attacking Socialist MEP Ana Gomez. Stories that were enthusiastically replicated by pro-government media and Labour MPs in an effort to discredit Gomez and her work.

The Shift also reported on a fictitious Facebook account aimed squarely at spreading rumours about the government’s perceived enemies including the family of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, MEP David Casa, as well as businesses that are thought to support organisations calling for justice for Caruana Galizia.

In January 2020, The Shift wrote about how Dutch MP and Council of Europe Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt had his Wikipedia page manipulated.

In April that same year, The Shift also reported a fake version of Malta Today promoting Keith Schembri, including a favourable article about the disgraced former chief of staff as well as a personal website showcasing his rags to riches stories.  Both websites were swiftly taken down following The Shift’s report.

Daphne Caruana Galizia had also reported in 2017 that a fake website masquerading as an official site for the Nationalist Party leader, Simon Busuttil, was set up in the midst of the electoral campaign. It was taken down following legal action.

The Shift’s news portal itself has been subjected to multiple cyberattacks ever since it was founded. Our journalists, too, have been the subject of online attacks. Reports to the cybercrime unit have never led to anything concrete, despite their best efforts.

The implications of having a large portion of Malta’s independent media so rapidly and easily compromised, risking seriously overwhelming the cybercrime unit in the run-up to a general election, is the most alarming aspect of this entire debacle.

                           
                               
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saviour mamo
saviour mamo
26 days ago

The culture of impunity by the government has made Malta a magnet to money launderers and now also to cyber criminals.

James
James
26 days ago

The wheel just keeps going around as the power brokers have ensured that foxes have been put in charge of the chicken houses.

There remains no intention nor will from those at the top table to upset the status quo.

There is just one vapid statement uttered after another, another useless series of memoranda of understanding signed in a futile attempt to convince the FATF, Moneyval and Venice Commissions that they are taking the necessary steps to address their concerns, but there are never any charges brought against those from the top table who are so clearly implicated as one scandal after another is exposed.

It is indeed time that the PM insists that the time for talking is over, and delivers evidence that those at the top table are no longer guaranteed immunity from prosecution. It’s not as if there’s insufficient evidence as the DCG, FATF, Moneyval and Venice Commission Reports have demonstrated.

viv
viv
26 days ago

The implications are far more insidious than you may have said. This particular hot potato is revealing notably differing vectors, and merits deeper discussion.

Sciberras
Sciberras
26 days ago

Do you think we will soon hear that also the Pl media or the PM has been attacked mildly so as to say that they are victims too ??? Is PL ever to be trusted after all the things which have been uncovered?

Isle of the corrupt
Isle of the corrupt
26 days ago
Reply to  Sciberras

It already happened as booby said yesterday that he is also a victim

Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
26 days ago

Relying on any unit within the Police Force, is also false dreams.
I too have been the target of trolls, both within the PL for the past 50 years and the PN since Adrian Delia took the reins.
I had received bomb threats and many threatening letters when I was Chairman of Enemalta and Ninu Zammit was Parliamentary Secretary. I had referred Ninu Zammit and Frank Sammut to the Commission against corruption. Results – not enough proof to incriminate them on commissions received in a Swiss bank account. No one from the PN defended me, but obviously the scum PL and its filthy media, made a feast out of it.
Charles Mangion and Salvu Sant took Ninu Zammit to court, and after a wasted 2 years witnessing in front of Carol Peralta, a ‘sine die’ free masonry decision was agreed between the politicians.
We now know the aftermath, with Ninu getting an amnesty from Joseph Muscat on $3 million commissions in his Swiss bank account, and Frank Sammut, mentioned in the anonymous letter, in court with accusations on the oil deal, togethet with Tarcisio Mifsud, brother of PL guru Alfred Mifsud, and Tancred Tabone. Incidentally Frank Sammut was also a subject of the anonymous letter.
At that time there was also an attempted frame up on me, as I was suspected of having the PN’s radio being transmitted from my garage.
These last few years, I have also been demonised with threatening caricatures by the Labour scum media and their paid trolls. Again, I received a bomb threat, and the police report seemed to have been eaten by rats in the Police Headquarters, probably released by Joseph Muscat and his gang.
Rosianne Cutajar who passes money probably tucked under her skirt and delivers it to the intented beneficiary from under a restaurant table. She sued me for libel which was decided on a word which the lady magistrate did not comprehend grammaticly, and Rosianne was happy with a piddly token award, which she could have easily earned in Catania. However, I was singled out for her PL attack.
Why do I say all this, because the only messages of solidarity which I received were from only 3 persons, one of which, was always Jason Azzopardi.
Thank you Jason as people like me who are fearless of the mafia, and outspoken, are never defended. One comment I recently made online, was also completely misunderstood as a result of ignorance in the daily spoken metaphorical Maltese language, and many multi coloured politicians and bloggers, jumped on the wagon to fakely defend womens rights, even if I do so in practice every day, more than they do collectively.

Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
26 days ago

Incidentally, I alsk want to add that around 2 years ago, I filed a police report against Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando for breach of data protection against me and my wife. In 2 years, te Police did nothing except inform me and my lawyer, that I will be soon called by the Qormi Police, to go and give my testimony.
To date I am still waiting to be called. The only development was that a very similar court case was judged in favour of JPO who reported Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Obviously, being JPO against Daphne, things happen faster than the speed of sound of the Police sirene.

Philip
Philip
21 days ago

Godfrey, respect. How many chairmen or high profile accountants have gone through your experiences? Your courage and honesty are truly admirable.

Carmel Grima
Carmel Grima
24 days ago

Culture of impunity has been intruded upon us mortals by the institution of the Public Account Committee, which shields all the corrupt practices of all the members of Parliament. Take away this monster and Malta will come clean from the grey listing within 3 months as all corruption goes around our corrupt members of Parliament of both parties, Old and New.
Unlike in Italy and France where every body is equal before the courts of justice. Sarkosi and Formicone are examples of true democracies.

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