Scrutiny as ‘attack’: Propaganda’s warped perspective

The reaction by party propagandists to The Shift’s report on Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà’s property purchase reflects not just the abysmally low standards to which we hold our public officials but also underscores how government mouthpieces actively contribute to the poor understanding most people have of what scrutiny entails.

The Shift recently published a detailed breakdown of how Malta’s Police Commissioner was able to secure a loan to purchase a detached, three-bedroom villa in Marsaxlokk for €885,000.

To his credit and unlike many other public officials in Malta, Gafà replied to The Shift’s questions and personally provided the necessary documentation to corroborate his answers. The information was then collated and conveyed to the public in the form of a write-up, that merely listed the facts and without commentary.

Under normal circumstances, readers would have simply formed their opinion on the matter, perhaps asked themselves a question or two, and the report would eventually have been archived for posterity and future research.

However, since years of political party propaganda have destroyed any notion of acceptable scrutiny of our public institutions and public figures, the report was denounced as a “vile attack” on the Police Commissioner requiring the “people’s solidarity”.

Predictably, the person at the head of the Quixotic charge online is Labour propagandist Emanuel Cuschieri who took to Facebook to express his ire at The Shift’s gall to have asked Gafà – a very senior public official with a vital role in crime fighting – about his finances and stated that the article was part of a coordinated campaign to discredit the police commissioner.

Cuschieri follows up on his original statement with a video that begins with him stating that the Labour Party truly believes in the importance of journalism as the fourth pillar of a democratic society and that journalists should be supported unconditionally, only to pivot into a tirade against The Shift and The Times of Malta for their respective reports on Angelo Gafà and Keith Schembri.

Presumably, Cuschieri’s message to his followers is that members of the Labour government are all for public interest investigative journalism so long as it does not target them or any government-appointed officials or government supporters.

On Tuesday morning Cuschieri organised a protest before the law courts in Valletta in solidarity with former Infrastructure Malta head Frederick Azzopardi, who is being charged over illegal roadworks in Wied Qirda, Zebbug following an investigation by the Environment Protection Unit, and after disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat decided that institutions are out of line  – just as he did when the police raided his home in January – and expressed solidarity with Azzopardi

The turnout, however, was rather lacklustre, with barely two dozen people having turned up.

None of this is new. After all, Cuschieri and many others like him are part of a well-oiled propaganda machine that continues to characterise independent media and civil society organisations as part of a conspiracy, hellbent on bringing Labour down.

This idea has been assimilated by the public together with the idea that asking a politician or a public figure to behave better or asking an institution to correct a questionable practice or to make good for a mistake has got little to do with improving the standards to better serve the people. Instead, it’s all about hatred and division.

However, when government representatives such as Glenn Bedingfield orchestrated entire vilification campaigns both online and offline to discredit and isolate individual journalists – such as those coordinated against Daphne Caruana Galizia -we’re told they are simply exercising their freedom of speech.

No wonder a large portion of the public cannot differentiate between an exercise in accountability and a “coordinated attack”.

Politicians and propagandists consistently trying to discredit journalists, newsrooms and critics on social media may be typical of Malta’s woeful public debate, but it does have broader and more serious implications.

This is especially so when we consider that an EU-wide survey published last month found that 79% of the Maltese are confident in their ability to spot disinformation when it is disseminated on social media platforms and, unlike their European counterparts, Maltese are twice as likely to get their news from social media, according to the survey.

This confidence may be over-optimistic given the reach of online propaganda in Malta and considering the fact that according to the latest report published by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), Malta still has no official policy on media literacy and no measures to combat disinformation.

The report underscored how, “To date, there is still no formal regulatory framework to combat disinformation, and the absence of a comprehensive media literacy policy designed to empower consumers in critically assessing the output of media outlets further aggravates the current situation. Although The Shift News, primarily, together with other independent newsrooms, as well as good governance NGOs like Repubblika and Aditus make a concerted effort to combat disinformation, the reach that the party in government has on traditional and digital/social media, as well as its influence on public service media, makes the work of these organisations all the more difficult”.


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1 month ago

the role of the commissioner of police should be one which is entirely independant from the government of the day. with the news of the police commissioner and his wife, purchasing their new home through extensive bank loans, raises a serious concern whereby the commissioner of police and his wife (also an high ranking police officer) could be coerced into not taking certain decisions to retain their respective jobs, as otherwise they would not be able to honour the banking commitments.

1 month ago

No wonder many are convinced that even the 40,000 is a made up statistic.
No pastizzi No come.
When the pastizzi finish , good bye Labour.

Last edited 1 month ago by makjavel
carmelo borg
1 month ago

Cuschieri dal ghodu il protesta li ipprova jaghmel ma kinitx propju ghal Azzopardi imma kienet mossa biex joghogob lil Muscat. Dan qed jipprova jimmina lil prim ministru Abela. İl partit tal labour u tal PN kolla ghandhom GLİED İNTERN bid differenza li il
PN il glied fil miftuh u tal labour qieghed maqful gewwa.

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