Disinformation watch: Populist statements that do not address the real issues

The statement by the opposition Nationalist Party’s home affairs spokesperson, Joe Giglio, in response to a violent brawl between a group of Syrians is a perfect example of how the rhetoric of fear and frustration can be recklessly employed and deployed for political expediency.

On 18 August, footage of a group of around 25 Syrians embroiled in a street fight in Ħamrun did the rounds on social media and hit the headlines. In response to the incident, Prime Minister Robert Abela condemned the violence in a brief statement to Labour Party’s ONE Radio, saying he would not allow Malta’s communities to be turned into “jungles”.

Freshly returned from a summer yachting holiday, Abela earlier today paid a visit to the mayors of Hamrun and Marsa to, according to the party’s television station ONE News, “discuss residents’ challenges”, which include “security in their localities”.  Abela then posted a photograph of the meeting to his Facebook page

Joe Giglio, however, went a step further and presented six proposals to increase security in Malta.

At first glance, these proposals look like a no-nonsense, tough-on-crime stance which will certainly earn the Opposition nods of approval (and Joe Giglio brownie points), but on closer inspection, some of the statements are ambiguous, others lack context, while others are, at best, inaccurate.

Is Malta’s public safety being threatened?

Giglio’s opening statement starts by asserting that public safety in Malta is under threat and that every day we hear of some new incident. While it is true that there have been several reports of violent brawls since 2020, going as far as to claim that public safety is being threatened may be a stretch.

Moreover, the statement does not tally with the currently available data. According to the 2021 Annual Crime Review by the Crime Malta Observatory, the long-term analysis of data suggests “a continued generic trend line decrease in reported crime”.

According to the report, Malta’s crime rate dropped from 42 crimes per 1,000 persons in 2015 to 30.6 crimes per 1,000 persons in 2021.

The report, however, notes that society still perceives that crime is increasing even though the available data suggests a stable situation. This perception is largely due to “erroneous political rhetoric”.

Immediate deportation of law-breaking foreigners

Giglio’s second point states that foreigners who break the law should be immediately deported.

This statement is superfluous for two reasons. First, Malta’s Immigration Act already provides for the deportation of foreigners. Article 5 (2) d of the Immigration Act, states that a person can become a prohibited migrant if they have been convicted in court and have been given sentences of up to one-year of imprisonment.  Once in custody, the minister can decide whether to remove the person after serving their sentence (Article 14). This however does not apply to people who are afforded special protection such as refugees.

Secondly, according to the most recent data published by Eurostat, in 2021, a total of 695 non-EU nationals were ordered to leave Malta, the country’s highest number yet.

Non-EU citizens ordered to leave Malta between 2015 and 2021. Source: Eurostat

The role of the army

Another suggestion from the opposition’s spokesperson for home affairs is that the army should play a more active role in law enforcement.

This suggestion is problematic for several reasons, not least because Giglio is fully aware of the consequences of having the army carry out civilian law-enforcement duties.

Back in 2010, Joe Giglio had said that citizens are not adequately protected against abuse of power and discrimination during roadblocks set up by the police and army.

Giglio was talking to The Sunday Times of Malta about the issues that arose after hundreds of individuals were subjected to vehicle checks and frisking by the police and the army on their way to the Ċirkewwa terminal to board the Gozo ferry for the Nadur carnival. Nine were detained, the majority on drug-related offences.

According to the law, those tasked with law enforcement should only stop vehicles and search passengers if they have “reasonable suspicion” that an individual has or is about to commit a crime. What happened, instead, was that individuals who questioned an officer’s grounds for stopping them ended up in court charged with obstructing police officers in the execution of their duty.

“Experience teaches us that where people have dared to protest, they were eventually charged in court with having interfered or tried to influence people carrying out their duties, and this is precisely why the legislative framework at the moment and the way it is implemented is clearly not sufficient,” Giglio said at the time.

How confident are we that the legislative framework has improved? What’s more, if Giglio is suggesting that the army patrol the streets as they do in France (with Opération Sentinelle) and in Italy (Operazione Strade Sicure) then there are other factors to consider.

In France, the army patrolling the streets was largely in response to terrorist attacks around the country (not street brawls) and while the French public welcomed them, some, including former members of. the military, felt the operation placed a logistical and financial burden on France’s military and was just an “anti-anxiety” measure.

In Italy, when journalists tried to understand whether having the army patrolling the streets in different Italian cities reduced crime, they were presented with a mixed bag of results. In some cities, the rate of reporting certain types of crimes, such as theft, increasedwhile in others it remained unchanged, such as when it came to aiding and abetting prostitution.

The one thing journalists were able to confirm was that the biggest advantage of having the army in the streets was the perceived sense of security it afforded to the public.

Revamping the criminal code

Giglio also proposes re-writing Malta’s Criminal Code, which dates from 1854, to better suit today’s needs. Put that way, we’d be forgiven for thinking that this Code is an old crumbling document handwritten on parchment, stored in parliament’s basement, even though Malta’s Criminal Code is regularly updated with several amendments passed through parliament every year.

Giglio concludes the Nationalist Party’s proposals on public safety by saying Malta is open to people of goodwill and not those who come here to do as they please.

Giglio’s six-point statement is little more than populist rhetoric aimed at taking advantage of people’s heightened emotions for cheap political points and, as with all rhetoric, does not address any of the country’s structural issues such as an overstretched police force, the lack of enforcement of the laws we do have or the exploitation of foreigners in certain industries.

The most troubling aspect of these kinds of statements is that they fuel the idea of a “hierarchy” in the severity of crimes, depending on the nationality of the offender. They are populist, dangerous, and do nothing to better public safety in Malta – they do the very opposite.

                           
                               
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Stefan Mizzi
Stefan Mizzi
1 month ago

Oh yes crimes per thousand and what happened to the population in the last 10 yrs…grew by 100k.

Please be factual and quote unsanitized numbers – non-normalised data.

In absolute terms crime has increased. Period. even though using your trick of normalising data shows a decrease.

Apart from the quantitative analysis of data there is the qualitative components. Break down the numbers of serious crimes ranging from gbh, to rape and petty crimes and profile of alleged offenders and an interesting story emerges.

I guess Dr. Giglio is spot on. Your article unfortunately is hall of smoking mirrors.

Joe Borg
Joe Borg
1 month ago
Reply to  Stefan Mizzi

If you account for the increase in population the crimes per 1k would be even lower…just saying

Joe Borg
Joe Borg
1 month ago
Reply to  Stefan Mizzi

I agree with your second point that crimes should be categorised by their seriousness not amalgamted together as though they were equal

Martin Christopher
Martin Christopher
1 month ago

Giglio should return to his hiding place, the same hidey-hole he crawled back into following his disastrous interview with Andrew Azzopardi.

None of his outbursts have – so far – been based on anything he has carefully and honestly studied, absorbed and analysed.

Wouldn’t that be too much bother for a shadow minister who thinks he can get away with pure jingoistic poppycock?

Out of Curiosity
Out of Curiosity
1 month ago

I do not believe that what Giglio said is completely wrong. Let’s face the truth for once and accept the fact that illegal immigrants are still creating loads of problems to both Hamrun and Marsa residents. As a small island state we cannot afford to be run over by these ghettos and people with low levels of education. I remember the time when Mintoff used to allow few Libyans to come over. He used to be criticized a lot even if the good thing on the other side of the coin was that many Maltese used to make a fortune out of their own investments in Libya. Go and have a look at the numbers in our prison and you will find out that more than half of its population are foreigners. Do we need all this? Can we afford this additional burden?

Lius
Lius
1 month ago

The data counted the complaints made, if these do not exist the data does not increase. but it is evident that crime in Malta has increased and especially in hamrun, these fights between Syrians is normal, even they are carried out in a small square in front of a police station, a sign that notthey are afraid of nobody so nobody is acting here.
The truth is that good people flee Malta while others are forced to stay as their residence permits are not accepted in other states.

Joe Borg
Joe Borg
1 month ago

While the numbers might show that crimes are decreasing, one would need to delve further and check whether people are reporting more or if they just adopted a ‘couldn’t care less attitude’. Maltese have stopped frequenting Paceville, is that because they wrongly ‘perceive’ more crimes (undoubtedly since teenagers spend a large amount of time follwoing politics and tuning in political radio stations). I think that this is also a fact which is not matched by the data collected. Secondly, one would have to distinguish between crimes by their gravity. Petty theft is not equal to rape or murder.

Finally, I would not understand how whether having street patrols reduces crimes is a point of contention for the journalist. Do you have any doubt that criminals would take a step back in the presence of police/army officers ? How can you contend this ? At best, they would be able to intervene in very small time stopping crimes. (Obviously if street patrols were done correcy)

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