This article first appeared in Malta Today
“200 trees to face the chop” claimed The Times’ headline on Saturday, causing many to begin their weekend (including me) by bashing away at their keyboards in fury.
As it turned out the article was not quite correct, although there were some elements of truth. In fact, in the print version of the paper, the headline was changed to ‘Rabet Road trees face the chop’ and on the inside pages, we find the sub-title “200 mature trees will have to be uprooted’. There is a bit of a difference between trees being chopped down, and uprooted.
This type of not-quite-accurate reporting is only backfiring in the long run, because while it triggers a predictable outraged response at the outset, the anger is then turned on the media house when the information turns out to have been exaggerated. When a source ’cries wolf’ one too many times, all credibility is lost. It is also counter-productive because we heave a sigh of relief and end up “accepting” a slightly less alarming scenario, by telling ourselves, “well, at least it is not that bad.” This, of course, is equally detrimental, as we will end up becoming even more complacent while more trees are obliterated and concrete continues to be poured in their stead.
In fact, the Ministry of Transport press release refuting this story seemed to indicate that the entire Times report was one big fat lie, but diligent environmentalists took the time and trouble to pick apart the ambiguously-worded statement, and then have a look at the actual plans submitted to the Planning Authority. As it turned out, there was reference to trees being uprooted and replanted into a centre strip, which I am told, is tantamount to destroying them anyway because replanted Aleppo trees don’t tend to survive.
In the latest news report I have seen, it is being stated that no more than 15 trees will be chopped down while “300 trees would be planted”.
The result of all these conflicting reports is that there is obfuscation everywhere you look and everyone is accusing each other of lying and of spreading ’fake news’.
No wonder the general public doesn’t believe anyone any more. Between journalists seemingly unable to report the facts (rather than spinning them for maximum effect) and Government statements which need to be dissected with a fine tooth comb to pick up on the nuances in each detail, it has become a real test on our nerves. Why is it so difficult to just tell us the truth, especially since it is bound to come out anyway?
The same is happening with the re-design of the Paola square. It has been shorn of all greenery and at the moment looks like a soulless, bland slab of nothing. However, responding to the criticism, the architect working on the project claimed on Facebook that it is not yet ready and that it is unfair to judge it on its present appearance. We are told that the Ficus tree roots were apparently causing infrastructural damage and these trees have now been replanted elsewhere, but again those who live in the area are adamant that these replanted trees have died or are dying.
It is true that new saplings are being placed in large pots in the square itself, but the public has immediately pointed out the obvious: that it will take years for them to provide the amount of shade and oxygen of the old mature trees. This is apart from the fact that when you completely wipe out the ‘look’ of a square in the centre of a thriving community, by bulldozing over trees which have been there hundreds of years, it is as if you have erased a part of that town’s social and visual history. Tearing down old houses and doing away with old trees speaks of a ruthless, calculated, egalitarian approach to urban development which disregards heritage and is completely indifferent to the preservation of our past. Nothing is valuable or has any intrinsic worth; everything is expendable.
The area is going to be pedestrianized, which is a good thing, but I still cannot understand why it was also necessary to obliterate one of the few green spaces which provided shade and to remove the trees which were the ‘lungs’ of the town, in the process. Couldn’t the pedestrianization have been incorporated with the preservation of these trees as well?
The authorities have to realise that they cannot simply give us their version of the facts, and expect that we will keep swallowing it hook, line and sinker, when other facts are staring us in the face. In lieu of getting the truth from the sources we would normally rely on, what is happening is that concerned citizens and environmentalists are taking up the mantle of trying to get at the truth themselves instead. The result is that social media is being flooded with so many different versions of the truth, that it takes a lot of determination and motivation to finally get to the nitty gritty of any issue.
Those in power don’t seem to have an interest in being upfront while the media sometimes goes overboard rather than sticking to the bare facts (although, to be fair, the fierce public backlash regarding the Rabat road story did have some positive repercussions as the plans for the project were revised). However, the bottom line remains that we deserve to be told the truth by the Government, as well as media sources, and not have to dig for it ourselves as if we were on some never-ending treasure hunt where the clues have to be collected and pieced together from all over the Internet like some gigantic jigsaw puzzle.