At the start of the 15th century Filippo Brunelleschi brought about a revolution in the art world by ‘re-discovering’ the techniques of linear perspective. Perspective, from the Latin perspicere meaning ‘to see through’, allowed the development of depth in artistic representations.
The key to making perspective work is to understand the point of view of the viewer. In fact, the technique creates an illusion of space and distance for the viewer to appreciate. Perspectives, in the end, are all about points of view. They are an angle, an approach to a subject from a particular point of view.
The battle of perspectives last week that started when an editorial by The Shift titled ‘Putting things in perspective’ looked into a news item concerning Repubblika activist and blogger Manuel Delia. It was followed, in quick succession, with a Delia riposte ‘Perspective in perspectives’ and a reprise from The Shift, ‘Twisted Perspectives’.
The original editorial had been provoked (which is a mild way of putting it) by multiple requests to support Delia – presumably, one would hope, by persons who value The Shift’s role in the battle for truth.
A caveat first. This column is a regular Monday contribution, but it does not make me one with Caroline Muscat or the editorial board of The Shift. I say this because, contrary to what seems to be the general assumption, an online newspaper is not a football team or a political party. Several (interesting) individuals contribute to the paper, and they all are free-thinking individuals and not party members toeing some common line.
With that out of the way, the clash of perspectives was a crucial and necessary development in the fight for the truth. Many will disagree. Much of the commentary online focused on what was deemed to be an unnecessary rift among supposed allies for the greater cause. The three articles cited above were in fact efforts to readjust the perspective of the audience. In the process, the truth was given a good old shake up possibly to emerge stronger in the end.
Let me explain. As a political observer, I am not an investigative journalist. My reaction to the original news reporting Delia’s imminent forced exile was one of disgust. Disgust that notwithstanding what we have lived through in the last five years, we are still at the point where a journalist is forced to seek refuge from the violent elements among us.
I was not surprised because I was fully aware of the levels of protection that the State offers the Fourth Estate notwithstanding all the recent spiel of reform. The crooks are still everywhere, the situation is still what it is. Daphne docet (teaches).
The Shift’s first editorial did surprise me. And then it didn’t. At first, I saw it as a Trojan Horse to be used by the Saviour Balzans, Manuel Cuschieris and Stagno Navarras of this world. In other words, the vultures of the journalistic world that would thrive on what would be perceived inevitably as an attack on Delia and his integrity. Unlike others, I did not for a moment see it as an exercise in narcissism, spotlight-seeking or antagonism.
The Shift was doing what it always promises to do. Ask the right questions and find the answers. That perspective was important, even if it meant unearthing uncomfortable truths. Here was The Shift filling the empty spaces left out of the original news, purposely or inadvertently. Those spaces had spoken to the sceptics much louder than the actual original perspective carried by the Italian news portal.
Delia would grudgingly admit to the existence of these lacunas with his “I have left room for misinterpretation and controversy” before quickly returning to his tall equine of choice and belittling the gravity of the error by pointing to the “real and burning issues facing this country”. Look away, there’s nothing to see here.
What followed this terse exchange was a shit-storm of deviation that befits the tribal approach to political discourse on the island.
The legion of sleuths and experts on the net took sides as they are wont to do in such circumstances and engaged in predictable exchanges comparing their personalised moral registers in an online shouting contest. Plagues upon various houses from Repubblika to The Shift were announced while the establishment and its aforementioned vultures revelled in the carnage.
So, what is the takeaway from all this? Firstly, the atmosphere surrounding investigative journalists remains toxic. Malta in 2021 is still not a safe place for journalists to work. Furthermore, a public inquiry concluded that the State had an active part in the dehumanisation of a journalist.
We have seen again how the extended hands of the Party-in-State are still willing to jump on any opportunity to engage in the setting up of journalists as objects of hate. That is one step away from encouraging physical and moral threats that jeopardise their operation.
Secondly, honesty and transparency are crucial in the battle for the truth. Journalists are in the business of working on improving public perspectives. They empower the public by strengthening its point of view by providing facts. A crucial element in all this is trust. The warning that comes on the label is clear: “speak the truth, no matter who’s involved”.
You cannot tackle the real and burning issues facing the country by running on an engine fuelled by half-truths. That is the long and short of it. All the rest is a matter of perspective.