President George Vella had one last opportunity to show himself worthy of his office. It was meant to be his last Republic Day speech, but instead of using that opportunity to show graciousness, courtesy and tolerance, he used his privileged platform to attack “certain media outlets”.
He heaped scorn upon them in an attempt to discredit them. He accused them of “destructive criticism” and “mockery” and of throwing allegations about “without a care in the world”.
He spent his self-obsessed speech licking his imaginary wounds and playing the victim while publicly attacking his critics. Which president uses his last Republic Day speech for petty vengefulness against those who dared call out Labour’s corruption?
In a country rocked by the brutal assassination of a journalist who was relentlessly demonised and dehumanised by Labour, the President chose to condemn “certain media outlets”.
In a country chastised internationally for its government’s hostility towards journalists, columnists and civil society activists, Vella chose to use his privileged position of power to incite the mob against “certain media outlets”.
He urged all those present at the Grandmaster’s Palace, including foreign diplomats, to ignore those “certain media outlets”. He publicly accused them of lying.
“Unfortunately, those who are not well versed in Maltese society, and who get their information only from what is published by certain media outlets, would get a completely opposite impression and would think there is no longer anything good left in our country,” the President declared.
The only thing left for the President was to call those media organisations “negative” to make sure that he was sticking strictly to Labour’s campaign of vilifying critics.
George Vella has never really understood that the President’s role is not to be Labour’s chief propagandist. Even during his last Republic Day speech, he couldn’t contain himself.
“I am not saying this to be controversial but because everyone knows that reality shows otherwise and because as the Head of the Maltese State, I feel hurt when I see our country being smeared in this way, especially in front of foreigners,” he added.
Vella shamelessly adopted Labour’s strategy of accusing those who condemn Labour’s corruption of “smearing” the nation. For George Vella, the ones Labour calls “traitors” and “enemies of the state” are the ones harming the country’s reputation.
It’s not the rampant corruption, the culture of impunity, the grotesque cronyism, the wasteful abuse of public funds, or the State’s hostility towards journalists that smear the country’s reputation for the President – it’s “certain media outlets”.
The President is a sensitive soul. He’s “hurt” because those “certain media outlets” smear the country “in front of foreigners”.
Vella still lives in the Mintoffian era of the Foreign Interference Act and is still steeped in an era of Soviet secrecy. He still thinks if we keep it all quiet between us, nobody will find out about the Mozura windfarm, the hospitals scandal, Electrogas, the Marsa flyover, the Azerbaijan-SOCAR deal, the DB ITS deal, the SVPR quarter billion scandal.
He thinks information only gets out in Morse code or via fax.
He demonstrated his hypersensitivity to criticism and his entitled self-centred antagonism by targeting those who called out his abject failures.
“In a healthy democracy, everyone should be subject to public scrutiny, which includes criticism. But the criticism should not mean mockery or ridicule. Nor should it mean allegations thrown about without a care in the world or speculation that can fester as long as it is not libellous. It is even worse when this destructive criticism is aimed at those who, due to the nature of the office they occupy, are duty bound to keep silent and not to engage in public controversy,” the President said.
If the President is duty-bound to keep silent, George Vella failed his duty. If his office demands avoiding public controversy, he hasn’t noticed.
To gain sympathy, he wallowed in self-pity. “There have been difficult times in which I deeply appreciated the words of solace and encouragement, just as I have felt hurt and saddened by unjustified words of contempt and mockery,” he added.
Vella obsesses about his own “hurt” from “unjustified words of contempt” but isn’t bothered about the daily abuse suffered by those working with “certain media outlets”.
He’s not fussed about the personal attacks upon them by other media outlets, such as the Labour Party’s ONE TV. He’s not bothered about the real threats to which those journalists are subjected. The serious intimidation and demonisation of those who dare speak up doesn’t fluster George Vella.
Labour’s attempt to financially wreck those “certain media outlets” with 40 SLAPPs using taxpayer money isn’t a concern for the President. He doesn’t care about the journalists and columnists and activists who are subjected to constant intimidation, spat at and abused on the street and on social media, who receive anonymous letters in their personal letter box and at their workplace, who are ostracised and subjected to political vindictiveness, and threatened with legal letters and financial ruin.
It’s not mere “hurt” those people suffer – they suffer the constant fear of physical violence, they fear for their families’ safety, and they don’t enjoy the protection of a flank of presidential bodyguards. They’re not driven around in convoys of luxury vehicles with blacked-out windows and police outriders.
George Vella should be the father of the nation, but instead, he wails over his trivial scratch while ignoring the bleeding lacerations of his people.
The Caruana Galizia inquiry recommended that the Expert Committee’s work to ensure adequate protection for journalists should be under the auspices of the President. Instead, Vella used his final Republic Day speech to join Labour’s relentless assault on “certain media outlets”.
“My presidency ends in April next year,” he announced. Not a moment too soon.