Thursday 20 June 2019

No, marital problems are not in the public’s interest

This article first appeared in Malta Today 

There is much debate about whether the “news” that Nickie Vella de Fremaux has asked her husband Opposition leader Adrian Delia for a separation should have been considered to be information in the public interest. 

My belief is no, it is not. 

Think about it, what difference does it make to the country? What difference does it make to your life, the person reading this? What difference does it make to his official role? None that I can think of. 

Those who think that all’s fair in love and politics had better think again, because once the gloves are off and nothing personal and private is off limits, it will become very, very ugly . Because where would one draw the line? The only situation I can think of when the news would fall under the realm of the public’s right to know is if there is blatant hypocrisy by those who are in positions to decide on public policy or law which affect the lives of others. Such as when someone is advocating against gay rights, but is gay themselves. Or if someone was advocating against divorce legislation, and spouting a lot of rigamarole about the sanctity of marriage, but was secretly carrying on an affair. 

But in this particular instance, I would prefer if Malta took a few steps back and acted like it used to when politicians’ relationships were discretely left out of the press. I am not the only one who thinks so either, as from the reaction online, most people, irrespective of their politics, also agreed that this was a gross invasion of privacy, expressed their empathy and called for the couple to be left alone.  So if anything good can come out of this, it is that there are many out there who have finally recognized when a certain type of reporting simply crosses the line. 

What was especially galling about this story was the fact that it was worded in a way that made it seem like the author, Manuel Delia, was being considerate and caring, and yet the whole tone smacked of a faux sentiment, especially when one realizes that he rushed to be the first with the ‘scoop’ at 1.30am in the morning. He then added, “this website will not carry any comments that intrude on the private affairs of Adrian Delia or Nickie Vella de Fremeaux”.  Well, talk about shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. It’s a bit too late for that now isn’t it, once you have intruded into their private affairs yourself? And, of course, this feeble warning did nothing to stop people from indulging in idle speculation, and for all these comments to be uploaded.  Lovin’ Malta, true to form, jumped on the bandwagon as soon as it could (can’t miss out on any potential hits now, can we?).  It also tried to pass this off as falling under the public’s right to know, (“because people were gossiping about it anyway”) as if they were carrying out some earth-shattering journalistic mission. Please.  

There is another aspect of all this which is niggling at me – Manuel Delia reports that Dr Delia received a legal letter from his wife’s lawyer at the PN headquarters. How does he know this?  Who passed on such sensitive, extremely delicate and personal information? If there was ever a breach of data protection then this is surely a prime example.

Dr Adrian Delia was right in issuing a public statement, asking for the family’s privacy to be respected, but there is little hope for that now, as it seems that some quarters persist in saying that the public has the ‘right’ to know all the gritty details.  If they are seriously going down this route then one is forced to wonder what the real motive is.  Is it to force Dr Delia to step down? There were various statements to this effect under the article. Because if that is the ultimate aim, then they should just say so.  It is no secret that this leadership has been fraught by problems since Day One, and that there is a very strong faction within the PN which openly opposes him, and wants to see him ousted.  Being in the public eye can cause enormous strain on any family, so I find it incredibly callous and heartless that there are those who are practically rubbing their hands with glee at the thought that this is their chance to make a calculated power move.  

Meanwhile, as the public is caught up in this swirling gossip-fest about a private matter, attention is being deviated from more crucial issues which really do affect the country and which deal with vested big business interests who are basically calling all the shots while we stand by, feeling helpless and powerless.   But I guess those kind of stories don’t get tongues wagging and they do not attract sufficient clicks. They might also be stepping on the toes of those who have their tentacles everywhere. 

What we know for sure is that, judging from the negative reaction to this non-story, whether because many know what it feels like to be going through marital strife, or because many genuinely do not feel it is any of their business, the public has shown that it does not want to go down this gossipy, malicious route. 

It rejected this kind of tabloid-style ‘journalism’ once before, and it is rejecting it again. 


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