Opinion: Abela’s biggest threat

Robert Abela can’t hide his authoritarian instincts. He was asked about President Spiteri Debono’s expressed view that the media should be enshrined in the constitution as the fourth pillar of democracy. That was enough to trigger him.

“It’s not just a matter of putting journalism as the fourth pillar of our democracy in the constitution; to get to that point, there must be the safeguards, those obligations that the other pillars have,” he announced.

“All three pillars of democracy have a regulatory framework that regulates them – what duties, what responsibilities they have, their accountability, the transparency they need to show,” he added.

“The three pillars exert checks and balances on each other.  Each one of those pillars checks and scrutinises the others.  Any new pillar added will have regulatory obligations and scrutiny and a regulatory framework,” he threatened.

That is what Abela really aspires to – a media landscape that looks like Russia’s, where only government-friendly media organisations survive.  The rest are driven out, pushed into bankruptcy, or intimidated into submissive compliance.

Abela has made no secret of his intention to stifle the independent media. He’s using a carrot-and-stick approach to achieve his objective – permitting only media outlets to sing his praises, laud his greatness, and applaud his wisdom.

There is no place for proper investigative journalism and critical opinions in Abela’s world.

He bragged that he drafted an anti-SLAPP law that is stronger than the EU directive to protect journalists.  He announced he wants the EU directive to be implemented as soon as possible. Yet he’s the one who’s directed his ministries and entities to launch 40 different SLAPPs on one small online media house – The Shift.

Abela put Malta at the top of the table of EU countries with the most SLAPPs per capita.

Having rejected 40 different FOI requests, Abela challenged the Information and Data Protection Officer’s decision that the requested information should be made public.  When even the Tribunal upheld those decisions, Abela directed his ministries and entities to fight the Tribunal’s decisions in court.  He’s lost all the cases that have been decided. He knows he’ll lose the rest.

Those cases cost the country tens of thousands of euros in legal fees and court expenses.  Instead of humbly withdrawing those court cases, Abela persists.  His intention is clear.  He wants to cripple The Shift to stop it continuing to expose his government’s slew of scandals. If he could, he’d shut The Shift down.

That is the real Robert Abela, a man with a fundamentally autocratic psyche.

The irony is that all 40 cases are meant to conceal how many millions the government paid Saviour Balzan out of our taxes. That’s the other tactic Abela uses.  He’s buying out some media houses while financially ruining others.

Government advertising allocation remains opaque, with funds distributed based on media houses’ compliance with government wishes. Cash-strapped media organisations know they must tread carefully to avoid losing their financial lifeline from Abela’s government.

Abela is obsessed with control, scrutiny, responsibilities, obligations, accountability, and transparency for media organisations. That’s why he wants them shackled with a ‘regulatory framework’ and “checks and balances” for the media. It’s not because he wants responsible, honest, critical journalism. It’s because he can’t tolerate it.

If he wanted responsible journalism, he could have transformed his own party’s media organisation – ONE. Instead of wielding it as a weapon of intimidation, harassment, and persecution of government critics, he would insist they endorse a proper code of ethics and maintain standards of honesty and integrity, at least in their news bulletins.

If he valued professional journalism, he would insist on balanced reporting, a modicum of fairness and adherence to the facts. He’s had plenty of time to sort ONE out.  He hasn’t.

Instead, he’s captured the state broadcaster and steadily and swiftly transformed it into another ONE, placing party loyalists at its helm and ensuring that it is as biased and partisan as his own party station.

As for regulation, we know exactly what he means.  The broadcast media is regulated by the phoney Broadcasting Authority (BA). But all the authority does is breach human rights and the constitution through its utter failure to impose impartiality on PBS.

The constitutional court found that the BA breached Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights dealing with freedom of expression and Article 45 of the Constitution. The BA is meant to protect the public from biased and partisan reporting.  Instead, it’s breaching our human rights.

Its decisions are perverse and illogical. They fined RTK €6,410 because Andrew Azzopardi said he would not allow Norman Lowell on his programme.  That BA decision was labelled “a threat to free speech” by Aditus and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.

That’s no surprise.  Sitting on the Committee reaching those oppressive decisions are Frans Ghirxi, former editor of L-Orizzont, who was fined 20,000 euros for falsely linking two former ministers, Louis Galea and Ninu Zammit, to drug running, and Alessandro Lia, son of Joseph Muscat’s personal lawyer Pawlu Lia, and who is undergoing criminal proceedings, details of which cannot be reported because of a court-imposed ban.

The five-man BA panel is chaired by Frank Farrugia, whose background is in business and who is obliged to Labour for his multiple appointments. In addition to being BA chair, he sits on Malta Enterprise and Jobs Plus Boards. He also sat on the board that approved the Corradino project, where Jean Paul Sofia lost his life.

Robert Abela wants to subject the media to that sort of regulatory body. Instead of maximising press freedom, he wants to scrutinise, regulate, control, and stifle the press.

America’s founding fathers wrote the freedom of the press into the Bill of Rights because they rightly recognised that without a free press, the people cannot make the right political decisions. Robert Abela wants to destroy the free press because, without it, Labour knows it will remain in government for good.

                           

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Erminia calleja
Erminia calleja
1 month ago

Its horrible what wr have to put up with in this God forsaken island of ours. And what is even more terrible is the fact that a lot of people just cant see through all the abusive behaviout goverment perpetrates day in day out against us.

makjavel
makjavel
1 month ago

Abela is being stripped naked , by his ministers.

VCZ
VCZ
1 month ago

You do not enshrine the media – journalism, press and social media, whether public or private – in the Constitution. The Constitution does not enshrine private business. Public broadcasting is “enshrined” in the Constitution. But look what a mess public broadcasting is in.
There are no “pillars” in the Constitution but three organs – parliament, government and courts. It was bad enough to enshrine a religion. A religion has its own constitution to tell it that it has “the duty and the right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong .” They are there from its conception. We have already waded into a proliferation of rights: fundamental, basic, religious, human, women’s, children’s, animal and other rights. The more the merrier and greater the confusion. wrong”. They are there from its very beginning. We have already waded into a proliferation of rights: fundamental, basic, religious, human, women’s and other rights. The more the merrier, it seems. And the greater the confusion and which are wrong”. They are there from its very beginning. We have already waded into a proliferation of rights: fundamental, basic, religious, human, women’s and other rights. The more the merrier, it seems. And the greater the teach which principles are right and which are wrong”. They are there from its very beginning. We have already waded into a proliferation of rights: fundamental, basic, religious, human, women’s and other rights. The more the merrier, it seems. And the greater the confusion. which principles are right and which are wrong”. They are there from its very beginning. We have already waded into a proliferation of rights: fundamental, basic, religious, human, women’s and other rights. The more the merrier, it seems. And the greater the confusion.
The President had better be careful.
The Prime Minister is right about a “regulatory framework that regulates [the three pillars of democracy]”. But he was wrong on accountability and transparency” of government.
He was wrong, too, on “checks and balances”. Parliament does not “scrutinise” Cabinet. Rather, it is the other way round with a top-heavy membership of Members of Parliament.
The President had better act than talk.

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