Sunday 21 April 2024

Hello Police? I’d like to report a camera and a microphone

This article first appeared on Malta Today

Oh, Jason, Jason. Whatever possessed you to handle the One TV camera crew and journalist who were doorstepping you at your legal office, in the way you did?

According to the Malta Today report: “In a statement, (Jason) Azzopardi claimed that the journalists’ behaviour amounted to “intimidation” as part of a “hate-filled attack by Castille against me that is being spearheaded by [justice minister] Owen Bonnici and the Labour Party’s media.”

But as a video uploaded on One News shows, the journalists were carrying out their job as is normal for media workers from both political stables and the independent press.

“As soon as I found out about these developments, I instantly reported it to the police,” Azzopardi said in his statement. “I expect the police force to do its job and halt this intimidation by the Labour media. No intimidation from the corrupt clique at Castille will stop me and my colleagues from exposing the government’s corruption.”
I am not exactly sure what “developments” he was referring to or what the Shadow Justice Minister (if you please) was expecting the police force to do…manhandle the slight young woman who was asking him questions and wrestle her to the ground, while zapping the cameraman with a Taser Gun?

In any case, the appalled reaction by fellow journalists was swift as they immediately expressed their solidarity with the One TV journalist and their disbelief at this turn of events. Now, whether or not you agree with the whole concept of political party stations and their respective agendas, they are part and parcel of our media landscape and they have a job to do. You have One TV chasing after Nationalist politicians while Net TV gives chase after members of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. And how the various politicians handle the situation when a microphone is suddenly thrust into their face by these pesky people from the partisan media houses, is always very telling.

When, for example, Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat bolt out the door like scared rabbits to avoid answering questions about Panama, the Electrogas contract, or any one of another 100 issues which are in the public interest, THAT inevitably becomes the story. We want to know why they are running away, why they just cannot simply answer a few questions (truthfully) and why they think we won’t notice that they are constantly avoiding the press. Our suspicions that something is not right are simply confirmed, otherwise why not just face the media?

Similarly, when a politician is snarky and rude to a journalist, that too says a lot about him or her. I often think that being in a position of some kind of power and having a degree of political clout tends to cloud some people’s perception of themselves. Let me break it to you gently and speak slowly so you can understand this once and for all, dear politicians: You. Are. Accountable. To. Us. There, that wasn’t too difficult to understand, now was it?

Meanwhile, Jason Azzopardi woke up the next morning and realized he had made a big boo-boo. So he issued a statement saying that he had withdrawn his police report (well phew! for that) and apologized for his “insensitive” decision, pointing out that he has always believed in a free press (phew! again). He then gave a long explanation about being worried that the privacy of clients coming to his legal office was being breached. One TV accepted the apology and they all made nice (for now).

What is surprising in all this is that I never expected this kind of over-reaction from someone who had previously always come across as quite calm and almost Zen-like. Now you could say that Azzopardi has lost his cool because he is being hounded by the Labour media over his involvement in the Lowenbrau deal, which is probably the case. But with the election now just a year away, and Labour using any ammunition they can find to downplay their own scandals, this is to be expected. Let’s face it, what Jason Azzopardi rather dramatically described as intimidation is par for the course in the political milieu. And intimidation is hardly a word I would use when one is in the public eye, because it made him sound like a delicate shrinking violet, which is not exactly the image one should be aiming for when one wants to be re-elected.

But most of all, I have yet to comprehend what possessed him to go so far as to file a police report – after all, suppression of the media is not the kind of thing which the PN is normally associated with (at least not so overtly). So even though he apologized, the very fact that Azzopardi was compelled to go so far and cross the line into Big Brother territory, makes you wonder what’s going on. As things stand, the PN is increasingly looking like a fractious political party rife with internal squabbling as it tries to decide on which direction it should be heading. The impression I am getting is that it is being bombarded by too many messages from all sides about what its political strategy, so that it’s just grasping at anything while sailing along without a rudder. Be More Aggressive! No, Stay Calm & Dignified! Hit Below the Belt! No, Rise Above It! No wonder its collective head seems to be in a whirl.

The problem with this is that it simply plays right into the Labour administration’s hands because without a strong Opposition, the Government can keep steamrolling ahead without the much-needed checks and balances required in a democracy. You might say that the PN is trying to do its job by objecting to corruption whenever it can, but I look around and do not seem to see that many people who are really that bothered. Is it because the PN doth protest too much, or is it because people see corruption on both sides so they have given up and have come to accept corruption as simply our way of life? This is a very dangerous state of affairs because it signals a complete erosion of our moral compass and utter complacency – a bit of corruption and a lot of corruption are viewed as one and the same in the eyes of many. I mention the word “Panama” and too many people tell me, “oh, so what?” which never fails to take me aback.

The nepotism, the cronyism, tenders awarded only to certain people, the backroom deals – world-weary observers of the political scene will tell you, so what’s new? Been then, done that, bought the T-shirt.

What has really hit home in the past few weeks, however, is that there really is no grassroots activism in Malta when it comes to wanting good governance. Viewing the protests in the States, these were all ordinary people standing up to be counted for the causes they believe in, defying the President and what he stands for either through demonstrations by holding up witty, hard-hitting slogans, or by opening up rogue Twitter accounts when he tried to shut down criticism by public servants. Here, unless we are led by the nose by either one or the other of the two big political parties, no one really wants to stick their neck out. The anger on Facebook does not spill out into the street in spontaneous marches. (Granted, it is also more risky here because of the very real possibility of political vindictiveness).

And because of that, whoever leads the country knows that he can basically do what he likes and governs as he likes, no matter how many things were optimistically promised while in Opposition.