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Stop this in 2016

“If journalists won’t take a stand for core liberties — and then be leaders in the campaign to save or restore them — we’ll be fit to call ourselves entertainers, and not much else.” - Dan Gillmor

While the concept of activist journalism is up for discussion, Prof. Gillmor, one of the world’s top journalism academics, insists journalists sometimes cannot remain neutral observers.

Since I took on the role of digital media editor at Times of Malta I’ve been almost fascinated at the kinds of stories which drive online traffic – the wedding proposal on stage at the Manoel Theatre, the odd blip from the foul-mouthed politician, the dog rescue caught on mobile camera… all wonderful developments in the digital age which fuel our curiosity.

But there are some very important issues that do not necessarily generate traffic, issues which I feel us journalists have no choice but to flag. I strongly believe we have a role to encourage critical thinking rather than neutered passiveness.

From where I stand I see more people jumping on the treadmill of hate

From where I stand I see more people jumping on the treadmill of hate, giving vent to dangerous far-right ideas, while we close our eyes to scandals which have ventured beyond the business and political class.

As we enter a new year, these are five things I would like to see challenged in a small island where bad practices are difficult to eradicate. Things won’t change overnight, of course, but the least we could do is reflect and see what each one of us can do about it.

Feel free to list your concerns in the comments board below.

Stop the tribalism

Malta is almost destined to have a two-party system where many still pledge allegiance to one party for life. Archbishop Charles Scicluna couldn’t have worded it better when during a recent edition of Times Talk he said it would be puerile to believe that whoever criticised the government was doing the Opposition a favour. If I criticize the cash-for-passports scheme it doesn’t make me a Nationalist, but merely a concerned citizen.

Likewise, if I praise the fact that unemployment is down, it doesn’t make me a rabid Labourite, but someone who is happy to see less people sitting around and doing nothing. It reflects a petty immature mentality, an attitude which permits political parties to run roughshod because they know we will always stand by them, come what may.

Through our writings, our discourse, many of us continue building imaginary barriers, creating a mental prison that bar divergent ideas. Which brings me to…

Stop the lack of transparency

The 2015 local news agenda has been dominated by a chronicle of dubious contracts/agreements/underhand straight out of a Yes, Prime Minister series.

Fine, the people at the very top might not (always) be aware what’s going on in government departments but the least they could do is create the necessary structures to thwart any foul play or suspicion in the first place.

It is not right for the government to keep turning a blind eye to such wrongs on the pretext that it is not impacting people’s pockets. Fuelling a culture of mistrust can have a hugely long-lasting damaging impact on the very morale of society.

Stop the migrant hatred

We are living in extraordinary times when extremists waving a particular black flag are succeeding in fanning fear and creating a clash of cultures. And we are all voluntarily swallowing the hatred - hook, line and sinker.

It’s high time we understand the difference between a refugee, an asylum seeker, an illegal immigrant and a terrorist. Let’s get some things straight - racism is not free speech; people fleeing war and persecution are very unlikely to impose their values upon us; it is not OK to pay a black person a lower salary; it is wrong to share fictitious videos on Facebook merely intended to steer hatred… The least we could do in such delicate times is to inform ourselves about the migration crisis, understand the source of the problem… and stop attacking the vulnerable victim.

Stop the environment destruction

It’s clear that for this government the environment is nothing more than a convenient cash cow to milk for the benefit of the few. Beautiful old houses continue to be torn down and open spaces are pillaged if someone can show us the money.

Meanwhile, our planning laws are being bastardised to pave the way for that questionable block of apartments with underlying garages. It is not enough for us to sit back and complain about the environment destruction with like-minded friends or to become an armchair critic and post the odd complaint on Facebook.

Society needs to wake up the way it did last June when thousands took to the streets of Valletta. We simply can’t wait for the last bit of Malta to be cemented until we understand that we have ruined our infrastructure and destined ourselves to living in a veritable concoction of health hazards in an island where there is nowhere to walk.

Stop the ‘u iva mhux xorta’ mentality

Many might pin it down to the southern Mediterranean mentality, but we need to understand the real cost of ‘anything goes’ – where we cut corners if it can spare us time or money, even if we end up with a half-baked product.

The state of our roads and many construction sites, the lack of enforcement, the proliferation of illegal billboards, and the general omerta are testament to a country which shuns quality - provided it doesn’t impact our pockets.

Prof. Gillmor’s parting shot is: “If journalists have any intention of doing their jobs in the coming years, they’ll wake up — starting in 2016 — to the reality that they have to become outright activists in the defence of these liberties.” The word ‘activism’ is shunned by many journalists, but if we can do something to help stop the rot of values and good governance then I don’t mind being called an activist.

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