In the front trenches

Politicians are seeking credit for having taken a stand against the Gaffarena-Old Mint Street expropriation deal, which has now been overturned by the courts.

Yes, politicians tackling wrongdoing is a very good thing, but let’s not overlook the salient fact that the Old Mint scandal, like so many others, was first revealed by good, hard journalism – in this case by the Times of Malta (with journalist Caroline Muscat in the lead). Revealing stories like this is far from easy.

Journalists everywhere face all kinds of dangers and difficulties in their work. For a start, the media struggles with financial challenges, particularly as increasing numbers of businesses now advertise on social media instead of in news outlets. Other problems include SLAPP lawsuits, attempting to force their silence through the threat of exorbitant legal costs.

But journalists are also personally pressured and threatened. Last year in Malta we faced the horrific reality of a journalist being murdered for her work. The whole nation was shaken, but for fellow journalists and anyone working with sensitive information in this country, the shock was even greater and closer to home.

Anyone influencing, commenting and working in the public sphere is under scrutiny, including newspapers, and rightly so. People are quick to bash newspapers and journalists into a pulp if they get something wrong, but comparatively stingy with their support when they do a good job. This worries me because in reality we are heavily dependent on journalists to hold the government and those in power to account. Most scandals here in Malta are revealed by the press and nowhere else – whether in traditional media or online outlets, or in blogs.

When a journalist or newspaper uncovers corruption or wrong-doing, society gains. When a journalist or newspaper is threatened, society is threatened. This is the case outside Malta too, where journalists also face threats, insults, psychological and physical violence.

Still, in spite of fears, threats and financial setbacks, many in the media courageously carry on with their work, and continue to carry the flag for freedom of expression and rule of law. Sometimes their drive and motivation is so strong that it resembles the fervour and enthusiasm of activists. They do not just do a job for the money – they believe in uncovering the truth, they believe in what they do.

Of course not all journalists champion the truth, but many do. Their dedication makes a difference. Their stories and investigations are not just a series of facts - morals and ethics play a role. There is right and there is wrong, and a good journalist will recognise and show this. Credit should be given where it is due. Journalists have their flaws and weaknesses like anyone else, but they do important and valid work, very often against the odds and at considerable personal sacrifice. They are in the front trenches of the battle against corruption, and their work matters.

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