This article first appeared on Malta Today
If all the petitions, statements and veiled threats going around on social media are anything to go by, the latest trend when someone says something you do not agree with, is to threaten them with their job.
The Archbishop tweets something partisan and controversial? A petition is quickly whipped round for the Pope to remove him from his post.
There have been repeated calls for people like Josef Caruana, who works as a communications official at OPM, and Jason Micallef, V18 Chairman to be removed after expressing their controversial views. Meanwhile Jason himself has called for another person, cartoonist Seb Tanti Burlo’ to be fired for his deliberately provocative cartoon.
And a University Professor who is quite vocal on social media about current events has been told (twice) that she should be sacked and students should boycott her lecturers.
Of course, there are stark differences between each case which should be obvious, but I think they need to be spelled out.
For a start, I would like to make it clear that people such as Mr Micallef who are being paid from the public purse are accountable to the people, because we are paying their salary and they are there supposedly to work in the interest of the nation, irrespective of partisan politics. So inflammatory, highly contentious remarks are not only completely out of line and unacceptable, but more crucially, are a dis-service to the office they hold. It cannot be stressed enough that once someone is appointed to an official public office, their own personal feelings, likes or dislikes need to take a back seat because the ‘freedom of expression’ rule does not quite apply. Technically, yes they can say what they really feel, but in practice, what they say is coloured by virtue of their very public role, so they should really not be surprised when there is a furious backlash as a result. Stepping into the public arena, and becoming a person in the public eye, is like stepping through a door from which it is difficult to go back through, and the sooner everyone seriously grasps this concept, the less aggravation (and petitions) there will be all around.
In the case of Mr Caruana, who works directly with the Prime Minister himself, surely even a modicum of common sense should tell him that anything he says on Facebook can and will be used not only against him, but against Muscat because it looks like it is an opinion being voiced with his blessing? In his case, I would suggest he step down because he clearly does not even realise that he is harming the very office he is supposed to be doing PR for. A communications officer is supposed to be there to do damage control, so when the public relations damage is being caused by that officer himself, there are really not enough face palms to go around. Now, where is that handbook about how people involved in politics should use Facebook again?
The Archbishop, while, not paid from our taxes, does have an official public position which, in a Catholic country still carries a lot of weight (for those who are believers, that is). Frankly, I would think that those who are no longer practicing Catholics shouldn’t really be bothered by what he says (or Tweets), and it has always baffled me why they should care so much. But in any case, he is not a private citizen so he, too, has to be careful about the way he is perceived…especially if he wants to encourage people to come back to the Church. The way things panned out he has simply reinforced why so many have become anti-clerical in the first place. Having said that, asking him to be removed from his post by the Pope does not make sense either because trying to shut him down by threatening him with his ‘job’ is just causing the rift between the two sides to become even deeper. It will not solve anything. On the other hand, like other public figures, maybe this was a lesson for the Archbishop that even an innocuous re-Tweet can have serious repercussions and consequences.
Which brings me to my last two examples: trying to get people fired because they are expressing opinions we do not like. One person is a cartoonist, the other is an academic. As much as Burlo’s controversial cartoon was not to my liking, demanding that he be fired is absurd, not to mention an act which would set a dangerous precedent. In the case of the University Professor, at a time when we often clamour for academics to speak up about the socio-political events in the country, it is a huge contradiction to now read demands that she be fired purely for expressing her point of view. We need to learn how to attack the argument and not go after the person and their livelihood just because what they are saying does not fit in with we believe. Trying to shut down the voice of ordinary people by finding out what their job or profession is and insisting that they be removed from their position is unacceptable and outrageous.
It also has more than a whiff of hypocrisy about it when the same treatment is not meted out to those whose political views align with our own.