As we head towards the final stretch of this campaign which has felt like years rather than weeks, the media have a crucial role to play to ensure that the volatile atmosphere in these last few days doesn’t escalate and that they report incidents faithfully.
And these days, by media we have to include the Internet and, by extension, anyone with a Facebook account.
This morning Television Malta’s website and Facebook page carried a story about a letter threatening certain presenters that if Labour wins the election, they will be kicked out. A letter to be condemned, that goes without saying, because no one has the right to say such a thing.
However TVM chose to use a stock photo of several letters fanned out on a table to illustrate the story. The message? That the station had received a deluge of threatening letters. Most people of course, took one look at the photo and the headline and clicked “share” without reading it, so the damage was done. Within an hour the story had gone viral with everyone expressing shock, naturally, at the idea that presenters were being threatened by what seemed like a considerable number of people. However, despite my drawing their attention to the dishonest, misleading photo, TVM has not yet removed it, but simply stated in a comment under the story on FB as an afterthought, “Please note that the photo is not meant to represent the real letter.” I have my doubts as to how many people saw this disclaimer.
This is unacceptable behaviour from the national station, and if it wishes to be taken seriously when it defends itself against accusations of bias, then this episode has not helped one bit. (There are other questions to be asked of course, such as why not show the actual letter, and was the letter passed on to the police for it to be traced?).
There have been other instances this week, which have crossed the line and can only be described as incitement. The photo below was being shared on FB yesterday with words to the effect that Labour supporters were responsible after Sunday’s mass meeting.
In fact, thanks to some sharp-eyed Internet savvy people, it was established that the photo comes from this website about special effects make-up. Once again, however, those who did not realise that it was a fake photo were appropriately appalled, especially as a real incident had in fact happened on Sunday. But even in that story, the media gave different versions with Maltarightnow reporting that the woman was going to lose her eye while the Times of Malta online said she was slightly injured. This is not to diminish the seriousness of the attack, because violence is never acceptable, but it is also unacceptable and unethical to inflate incidents such as this.
Finally, there was the story going round that an effigy of the Prime Minister was “hanged” during the mass meeting, and this also turned out to be untrue. The effigy (on closer inspection as can be seen below ) was a silly puppet in the form of Tonio Fenech with the arms of a clock on his chest and his legs swinging like a pendulum.
Silly, and yet the image with the false information spread all over the Internet accompanied by gasps of outrage.
These attempts to incite anger and hatred with these fake scaremongering stories are not only deceitful, it also makes me wonder whether there are those who are itching for some really juicy violence to break out in order to prove some twisted point.
It also makes me wonder: if the PN is really the party with the best policies for the country, then why would anyone feel the need to resort to such despicable tactics so that the party wins more votes?