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Naqilgħu tkaxkira, they say

The warning was clear: “After the next election, it would be the turn of others, like The Times and The Malta Independent to be swept away (jaqilgħu tkaxkira) so nobody would stand in the people's path to progress and prosperity.”

The message was not delivered by some rabid Labour Party supporter sipping a whisky inside a każin on a Sunday morning. Believe it or not, the warning was made through an editorial in last week's 'leftist' l-oriżżont.

It is somewhat plausible to hear blind party supporters with their platitudes deriding the media for doing its job. But when a media organisation ditches its central role and morphs itself into a party puppet to attack another news organisation it is not just worrying but dangerous.

I strongly subscribe to the idea that media organisations should be scrutinised. 

Press criticism has seeped into every inhabitable niche and one expects news outlets to be models of the transparency and accountability they demand of others. Let’s remember it was a British journalist Nick Davies who exposed in The Guardian his tabloid colleagues’ phone hacking. 

The editorial in l-orizzont.The editorial in l-orizzont.

The tactics are the same: smear the journalist, accuse him of having a personal agenda, allege his news organisation of being bought by the government/opposition/business entity and press the repeat button

Academics like Jay Rosen and websites like Nieman Lab do a great job to keep constant tabs on the press.

But it is worrying to see the press in the line of fire simply because it is trawling contracts and deals which are in the public interest (read Panama Papers) and questioning structures which chisel out our democracy.

I’ve been in the media scene long enough to witness dirty games played by all political parties. The tactics are the same: smear the journalist, accuse him of having a personal agenda, claim his news organisation is bought by the government/opposition/business entity and press the repeat button.

Yet, with the exception of the odd incident or delicate political moment (noticeably before the EU referendum) the media stuck to the old gentlemen's club agreement that traditionally held them back from jumping on the partisan bandwagon to attack each other. They did it even when they belonged to different political houses.

We would criticise each other loudly over a pint of beer but avoided throwing mud at each other in public... or print. The reason was simple: despite our flaws and agendas (yes, we all have them) we never forgot each one of us has a pivotal role to serve as watchdogs to the authorities - above partisan interests.

In 2016, there are still enough weapons to decimate the media. Malta's press laws have still not yet jettisoned the fact that editors and journalists can be imprisoned as punishment for criminal libel.

Media houses are accused of playing unfairly even when their questions are constantly drawing blanks.

Politicians and prominent businessmen capitalise on the so-called 'right of reply' to muzzle freedom of expression.

Sadly we are seeing this animosity creeping into the mainstream. Newspaper commentaries, bloggers, commentators, posts on social media are often rife with attacks against journalists who dare write too close to the bone.

It is ridiculous that we have reached a stage where the prime minister’s adviser (a former journalist) is paid by our taxes to unleash attacks and gossip about journalists for doing their job. It is a pity this is happening when our Prime Minister (a former journalist) pledged he would give a bigger voice to the press before the last election.

'Progress and prosperity' cannot come at the cost of an institution set up to ensure a sound system of checks and balances.

And when the attacks come from a newspaper more focused on threatening its colleagues in the media than making it a point to keeping the authorities in check then we have every reason to be concerned.

 

 

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