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Mind the gap

While the word independent connotes a state that is relative, the notion of an independent media cannot be relativistic. When we say “independent” we need to add a context: “from what?” or “from whom?” In Malta the expectation is that the “independent media” must be autonomous and therefore distant from the PN or PL, in contrast with those media outlets that belong, directly or indirectly, to the same parties. 

The last show in this season’s Timestalk dealt with the state of the Maltese media. Yet while a lot of valuable insights were offered, somehow the issue of independence per se was neither contextualised in terms of what an independent press really means, nor did it dwell on whether the political autonomy of the media was necessarily relevant to party politics per se, where instead one could speak of a media on the Right and the Left without conflating this with the PN or PL.

Furthermore, language was not discussed. It is now very evident that while the papers that fall directly within the sphere of the two parties are published in Maltese, those published in English seem to lay a double claim on their independence: apart from not belonging to a party, the fact that they are written in English somehow gives the impression that they could enjoy a further critical distance. 

Intriguingly, the role of English in the Maltese media has a vibrant historical metamorphosis. With Italian finally ousted from Maltese politics after WWII, the relationship between politics and the use of English and Maltese kept evolving to what we have now—where it seems that both parties have given up on an English language outlet, be it a paper (many would remember the demise of the Malta News, Weekend Chronicle and The Democrat respectively) or an online portal (with both MaltaStar and MaltaRightNow seemingly closed down)

It is relatively safe to say that all English language papers are, to one degree or another, fairly liberal. 

It is relatively safe to say that all English language papers are, to one degree or another, fairly liberal. Yet from where I stand—and this openly confirms my own position on the Left—I see this centrist position as having more propensity to incline itself on the centre-right rather than the kind of social (Left of Centre) liberalism one finds in papers like the Independent or the Guardian in Britain. 

This does not necessarily mean that English-language outlets in Malta are the mouthpieces of the Nationalist Party, though some still believe—wrongly in my opinion—that this is invariably the case. 

Even when some colleagues in the English language media see themselves as being on the ecological Centre-Left, I would argue that in Malta, an independent newspaper which moves on a Socialist- Democratic, Green, and Liberal Left, is still non existent. In fact I would go as far as saying that in Malta’s overall media, we do have a serious gap on the Left in general, and this represents a gap in terms of how a Labour government that sees itself as roundly managerial in approach and Centrist in delivery, could be kept in check. 

Let us not forget that even at the heights of its “socialist” pageantry in the 1970s and 1980s, Malta’s Labour remained firmly on the populist side of politics that was closer to Peronism and Craxism than anything close to the traditional European leftist politics which characterised parties like the German or French socialists. Those on the Left all have a story to recount in terms of how they often found themselves ousted by the populist hegemony that ran within Labour. I would hasten to add that this is a form of populism that is equally shared by the Nationalist Party. 

Somehow, in playing on the illusion that the PN and PL represent the Right and the Left respectively, a political status quo has become the very case by which, more often than not, our politicians, celebrate the rather bizarre notion of an alternanza between them—as if there is no other political reality besides their own existence. 

The lack of a Leftist independent media is badly affecting both parties.

The lack of a Leftist independent media is badly affecting both parties. As the discussion evolved in Timestalk, there was a feeling that the main point of a proper political debate is being lost not because the parties are what they are—tribal—but because we have a political discourse that mostly operates within a vacuous centre. 

As the discussants clearly stated, the Opposition seems to be unable to emerge and run with an issue that would sustain a political discussion that matters (maybe with the exception of the Panama papers).

On the other hand, while there is a stream of healthy criticism aimed at the Government from the English-language independent media, there seems to be a thread of uncontested reportage where, starting from the national media, no real discussion takes place as the two parties are expected to balance each other out. 

As I kept thinking of this “balance” I got the persistent image of two children trying to play on a see-saw by insisting on either both sitting on the centre or by both moving to the right, where what appears to be a balanced political narrative, is in effect a one-sided view of what some would wrongly call “political normality”. Yet we all know that far from normality, this is what we would call a political impasse which has suited both parties in their acts of self-preservation. 

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