Konrad loves Joseph (and Salv) - Mark Anthony Falzon
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Konrad loves Joseph (and Salv) - Mark Anthony Falzon

You know there is something the matter with journalism when it has to remind itself that it is impartial. ‘Ma jħares lejn wiċċ ħadd’ is how Saviour Balzan describes his own show on TVM, Xtra. The lady doth protest too much and all that, but never mind.

The credits list a Matt Brown as the director of the programme, but I expect he will have fallen out with Balzan and left him to bumble it alone. He would otherwise have told him not to use the third person to address his guests, to stop looking down at what we might kindly assume to be notes we can’t see because they are hidden by the daft set design, not to not ask rambling questions, and to try to complete a sentence every once in a while.

Still, all of that is highly peripheral to the main point, which is that, by his own doing, Balzan’s work as a television journalist is compromised. His vocation seems to be to doggedly drive the point home that Daphne Caruana Galizia was a pathological liar and dastardly person generally whose only redemptive activity in life was getting killed ‘brutalment’. (You know, just in case you thought that being blown apart was a pleasant and placid form of euthanasia.)

This fixation vitiates every single political interview that he conducts. Which brings me to Konrad Mizzi, and to the shameful whitewash we witnessed on television a few days ago.

Because the nemesis was a journalist, and because Balzan’s real mission throughout is to do maximum damage to her memory, he often ends up setting himself, a journalist, against ‘the media’ (read, ‘Daphne’). One of the first things he told Mizzi was that he would have to ask uncomfortable questions, because it was his job. He stopped just short of actually apologising.  

He later asked Mizzi if he was surprised to find himself scrutinised by ‘the media’ on the Electrogas matter. Now this is truly bizarre, because I expect a journalist to own their job, rather than use it as a basis for a tacit apology. Balzan is part of the media. Rather than ask Mizzi if he was surprised by media scrutiny, he should have done some scrutinising of his own.

Not a chance. Balzan was so docile, and the interview so obliging, that Mizzi had the look of a favourite grandchild who is given the run of the biscuit tin. He appeared perfectly relaxed and in control, even reminding Balzan at one point to ask him about the interconnector. A dismembered question later, Balzan – or ‘Salv’, as he is apparently known to Mizzi-chum – asked him about… the interconnector.

Balzan was so docile, and the interview so obliging, that Mizzi had the look of a favourite grandchild who is given the run of the biscuit tin

So careful was Balzan to take the journalistic back seat, and to not ask Mizzi any awkward questions, that he left the task to Adrian Delia. The programme included two or three video clips in which Delia spoke about 17 Black and Electrogas. Seemingly having no questions of his own, Balzan asked Mizzi what he thought of Delia’s criticism.

The impression given was that the only person in Malta who thinks that it is unacceptable for a government minister (and Deputy Prime Minister, at the time) to own an account in Panama which is linked to another account owned by a businessman involved in massive government contracts, is Adrian Delia.

Funny, because I thought the point of journalism was to ask questions on behalf of the public. The proper thing to do would have been to face Mizzi with the facts, rather than let him comment freely on a heavily edited version of what Delia had to say about those facts. When a journalist describes facts as ‘insinwazzjonijiet’ (insinuations) made by someone else, they have already disowned them and taken sides.

Things got even more impartial when Balzan solemnly asked Mizzi what he made of the insinuation that he had killed Daphne Caruana Galizia (‘jirreferu għalik bħallikieku inti qtiltha’). This was the perfect cue for Mizzi to put on his best martyred look and say how unfair it all was. Which it probably would be, had anyone actually suggested anything of the sort. So zealous is Balzan in his vocation, he is even happy to monger imaginary insinuations.

Thing is, because they had no reason to be otherwise, Mizzi’s defences were down on the night. He said things that a first-year undergraduate in journalism studies would have mauled. For example, he said he has a ‘thick skin’ and that he has learned to pay less attention to what is said about him in the media. Amen to that.

He also said that he loves (his words) the Prime Minister and would never go against his word, and that he would like Joseph Muscat to stay on. Given that the Prime Minister has defended Mizzi against all normal standards of decency, I can see where the love comes from. I can also see why Mizzi might want Muscat to stay on. You never know, a Chris Fearne at the helm might have less time for his ‘family structure’ (Mizzi doublespeak for a secret account in Panama – which Balzan was happy to accept, of course).

Mizzi seems to think, too, that the National Audit Office is a bit of a dud. When asked about the Electrogas report, he said that he could see why the NAO had stumbled: ‘Proġett kbir, diffiċli jifhmuh’ (‘you can’t expect them to understand such a big project’).

Now a government minister reducing the NAO to a schoolboy struggling through his midterm tests would normally set a journalist on fire. Not Balzan, who was asleep by this time. (He let Mizzi drone on about a wealthy country, the ‘general product’, and other buzzwords without barely a question for the last 10 minutes of the programme.)

No wonder Konrad Mizzi calls Saviour Balzan ‘Salv’. It’s the equivalent of addressing Jeremy Paxman as ‘Jerry’ or Christiane Amanpour as ‘Chrissy’, except the results I reckon would be quite different.

mafalzon@hotmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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