In the short-story “The Writing of the God” by Borges, God writes a magical formula to ward off a big calamity which would befall humanity in the future. The formula is stored secretly in perpetuity and would eventually be accessed by a chosen one.
Maltese political parties don’t need this magical formula. They have TV stations to ward off big calamities. Highly-calibrated machines oiled by construction money which will constantly pump a tirade of bollocks to their viewers presented as news, information and political commentary. If you want a political career, you don’t need principles, back-bone, education, and some real life-experiences which provide you with enough wisdom to lead the people’s interest in parliament – you can just go and shill yourself on your party’s TV station pretending to give a damn, and eventually you will get an advantage over the ones whose physical appearance disqualifies them from being TV presenters by the station’s board-rooms. Lovin Malta objects. They have filed a constitutional case arguing TV stations go against impartiality rules as prescribed in the constitution article 119.
Chris Peregin, the young stalwart who launched a successful online news portal while the traditional media houses were running into big financial challenges, has picked up a gargantuan fight against party-TV stations, namely ONE and NET which are owned by the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party respectively.
I’m compelled to write about this because I have authored various Maltese laws on free speech and have been vociferous on this cause for some time. Some of my friends want to know what I think about all of this, so, now they may know.
First of all, sorry Chris, but fat chance party TV-stations will close down or stop serving as propaganda machines. The Constitution is not a Godly-secret magical-formula – it is a malleable document and political parties will get together to change it if it transpires that it may not serve their interests. So even if the case is won, I don’t see any way party TV-stations would ever start being impartial. In addition, political parties will retain their right to free speech even if their speech is impartially-bullocks and they will fight for their right to propagate it in any way possible.
But, and this is a big but, the case does put a dent into the political status quo which currently incentivises corruption and outright nepotism. The problem with party TV-stations is not an issue about free-speech and convoluting the issue on these grounds will make us miss the woods for the trees.
Chris is right in arguing that ONE and NET incentivise corruption in politics because they are bankrupt and depend on construction money. The only way Karl Stagno-Navarra gets to go on ONE to ingratiate with corrupt politicians and defend their antics is because someone like Sandro Chetcuti is willing to go to the Labour Party headquarters and hand over wads of cash. Of course, the Sandro Chetcutis who do this are only doing so because they want something in return from the Government.
So, the more bankrupt ONE and NET are, the more entangled will the political parties become with the corrupt construction industry. Things took a slippery slope when the Panama scandal broke out. ONE turned into a festival of corruption-apologetics where corruption and grave political misconduct were justified on a daily basis and cheered on by the likes of Karl Stagno Navarra to the amusement of die-hard Party supporters. Thanks to ONE, there can never be a bad Labourite politician. Even during the November-December political-crisis of 2019, top ONE executives like Jason Micallef had no shame in allowing these apologetics to continue still. And guess who was a main fixture at ONE during those trying times, when the good men and women of Labour were screaming and hitting at Joseph Muscat to resign immediately – the darling of the construction industry Robert Musumeci who wrote a construction policy so friendly to the industry that it allowed it to destroy people’s homes with impunity. Of course, Musumeci made money out of the self-serving fabricated rules he himself helped create.
Imagine Mintoff coming back to life just to see all the PN-rejects conglomerating on ONE to defend the corruption of their fellow Labour political masters. Houston we have a problem – things really look messed up. Apparently, the new Deputy-Leader of the Labour Party, Daniel Micallef, is very happy about this situation. Let’s show them. We’re here to stay, he said. What’s staying Daniel? All the corrupt Nationalists who joined Labour because they saw in Joseph Muscat a corrupt master who could give them what Gonzi didn’t?
It’s about time we realise that party TV-stations are a serious and structural problem in our political status quo. No, I’m not saying that the party should not do propaganda. I’m neither saying that a party should not have its own TV station. But clearly, the situation is gravely messed up and if you are proud of this situation you may as well be totally dumb. It is clearly not in the interest of the Labour Party nor of the Government nor of the general public to have a publicly-funded party TV station which is compromised by corrupt money. Something here has to give. Otherwise, we’ll keep celebrating the trash-fest ONE has become with all its PN rejects lining up to its studio to show their faces and make sure their ingratiation is delivered and broadcasted wide and clear for the assurance of their new political masters.
Look. I’m just bringing up the PN-rejects as an example. The problem here is twofold: a non-commercially viable entity which depends on corrupt money for its existence and thus compromises its political owners, and secondly, the fact that both ONE and NET have no compunction in using their arsenal to further incentivise corruption by defending their corrupt politicians.
But ONE is also reflective of the state of the Labour Party itself. By now, all the failed PN rejects have joined in and have become regular fixtures on ONE: Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Ian Castaldi Paris, Robert Musumeci, Jean-Claude Micallef and more. No surprises here why Musumeci was so adamant to defend Joseph Muscat during the Nov-Dec crisis. These people have no principles – they are opportunists and morally corrupt and Labour is having too much of them. ONE gives them a platform.
Meanwhile, as ONE sucks all the money from the Labour Party’s coffers, I can’t get party top-brass to continue investing in the Party Library and archives, an investment which was cut-off as soon as Gino Cauchi stopped being Party CEO. My lament is finally recorded but it is only one of the many deficits of Labour Party. Too much attention, energy and money is wasted to keep ONE running while the Party is left abandoned only to be wrecked and invaded by the PN rejects looking for some silver.
Clearly, the situation needs change. If political parties are immature enough to refuse change, there’s nothing wrong in forcing change from without. So, although I don’t agree with Chris’ view on the case he instituted, I still bid him Godspeed and good luck. If the case doesn’t serve its purpose, it will at least threaten an institution which is actually harmful to our society.