Disinformation Watch: This is (not) fine

There is a timeless cartoon (meme) often used when people want to show how, when faced with a terrible situation, our brains refuse to grapple with the gravity of the case or the severity of the circumstances.

The image is part of a cartoon panel designed in 2013. Two of those panels show a dog that is sitting at a kitchen table. The room is engulfed by flames, but the dog smiles and says, “This is fine“.

Some of the written or spoken musings that made their way into our newsfeeds over the last few days, by government ministers and aspiring Party candidates, could very well be the equivalent of the “This is fine” cartoon.

On Friday 12 November readers were treated to an astonishing write-up in The Times of Malta by the minister at the Office of the Prime Minister, Carmelo Abela entitled ‘What Politics is Made of’.

The article itself is little more than self-promotion that actually tells us very little about “what politics is made of”. What makes it astonishing is the minister’s apparent complete lack of awareness of the reality surrounding him and the brazenness that exudes from the entire text.

This is the same minister who the Standards Commissioner found to be prima facie in breach of ethical standards after he spent €7,000 in taxpayer’s money on promotional adverts. He is also the same minister under whose direction Malta’s Public Broadcaster is technically bankrupt and has been classified by international studies as “state-controlled”.

None of the above matters, because Carmelo Abela tells us, “There is still a lot of work to be done. I am currently focused on reforming our public broadcasting company to establish a service based on quality and which is accessible to all.” And he adds that he has “always had very clear ethical principles. Those of integrity and honesty…”.

See? It is all fine.

Prime Minister Robert Abela also had a similar message during his speech in the House of Representatives yesterday which was filled with disinformation platitudes we’ve come to know (and loathe) in order to tell supporters what they want to hear – that the Opposition was wrong in forecasting economic hardship and that the Opposition was only interested in “negativity” in a failed attempt to undermine the creation of wealth.

Abela even went as far as to mention that despite the opposition’s claims that the economy was failing, international institutions were saying the opposite, the latest among them being Scope Ratings, which had put Malta among the “robust economies”.

Quoting credit rating agencies is a common disinformation tactic and one that The Shift has addressed in some detail in the past. And just as Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis quoted selectively from Moody’s Malta credit rating report, so too did Robert Abela quote selectively from Scope Ratings.

Yes, Scope agency gives Malta a stable A+ outlook, but what the prime minister fails to mention is that in Scope’s report’s title are the words “[…] provided government improves oversight”. Oh, that missing caveat.

The report goes on to say: “A prolonged greylisting could diminish Malta’s attractiveness as an investment destination and adversely affect its economic growth prospects, financial stability and ability to consolidate public finances. Important growth sectors such as e-gaming and financial services are vulnerable to delays of Malta’s removal from the FATF grey list.”

However, in his parliamentary speech, Robert Abela makes no mention of Malta’s greylisting by the FATF – neither does he give any indication of how Malta is addressing it. Everything is fine.

An article published in The Sunday Times by Labour Party candidate Rebecca Buttigieg bore some striking similarities to Robert Abela’s speech the following day.

Using the health authorities’ successful vaccination strategy for a springboard, Buttigieg then somehow grafts upon it the Labour Party’s vision for the environment, deftly blaming Malta’s appalling environmental record on previous administrations while praising Labour’s economic and good governance credentials. In this word salad, Buttigieg asks her readers to consider “the need for a realistic, level-headed leader who acknowledges what needs to be changed and acts on it decisively”.

Judging by the leader’s budget speech the following day, there appears to be absolutely no intention of acknowledging what needs to be changed and what needs to be acted upon decisively. As a general election looms what needs to be changed will not be mentioned (not even in whispers), let alone acknowledged or addressed.

This is fine.

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