These are episodes that seen in isolation may seem freakish and exceptional. But the collective indifference with which we receive them betrays the depth and the heat of the political discourse that has become normal here.
There is no sophisticated, albeit harsh, Spitting Image satire here. This is not laughing at cartoonish versions of the original on Striscia la Notizia. It is plain hate fuelled by years of venom across the air-waves by party-owned media who fabricate fiction to put together a case that ‘proves’ an outcome that is politically advantageous to the Labour Party.
The irrepressible compromise with truth is no new thing. The diatribes of over a decade of Manwel Cuschieri on Super One are hopefully transcribed somewhere in the archives of the Broadcasting Authority for the examination of future psychological and sociological historians that will compare his speech with the dehumanising propaganda of 20th century totalitarian regimes. Cuschieri was followed by others long after I stopped being able to listen.
It all started in the very early 90s where the liberating and democratising program of the Nationalist administration of the time was allowed to be influenced by the very specific historical context of the suppression of freedoms of expression in the 70s and 80s. The Mintoff regime – they call them the golden years, though now they’re distracted by Muscat’s platinum – suppressed any audiovisual communication unless it was controlled by them, where even naming Eddie Fenech Adami was banned.
The PN fought back by transmitting its voice from Italy, illegally, and at great personal cost for the people who actually delivered the task.
When the Nationalists took over power in 1987 they set about reverting that evil and started by licensing, before anyone else, the right of the Labour opposition to broadcast freely and without restriction. Symbolically the power of this political turning of the other cheek is monumental. But here we are, almost 30 years later, a country subjected to a conflation between the right and duty of parties to communicate dissenting views, to a context where an alternative reality is created 1984-style whipping up anger and hate that mobilises crowds to do the ugliest things.
And future historians, unconditioned by a need to be neutral in order to defend their objectivity, will contrast the way the Labour party has used its media over the last 30 years with the way the PN has. The PN’s media is biased, propagandist, critical of government when the PN is in opposition, full of praise for the government when the political reality is the other way round. Its bite has sporadic episodes of distaste but in communicating with a critical and sceptical audience it must and does consistently spin within the confines of a reality that is constantly tested by its audience against other sources.
Not so the Labour party’s media. It relies on the still stunning fact that its audience is not only loyal in the way I am loyal to ClassicFM because I enjoy their shows. It is incredible to me now that after 30 years of Super One, its listeners have an entirely exclusive relationship with it and every other source is presumed by its audience to be lying and therefore unseen and unheard. If a fact is not covered by Super One it will remain unknown to an entire chunk of the population. If a fiction is generated by Super One it becomes dogma for that chunk, and, even more ironically, a credible possibility if not likelihood for the rest of the country. Talk of eco-chambers!
Labour is historically supremely confident in this. Joseph Muscat spent almost 2 decades predicting Armageddon should we join the EU. He was so confident his audience was only watching him at the exclusion of any other independent source, he called in 2004 for his followers to celebrate the victorious outcome of the anti-EU referendum vote. Think four legs good, two legs bad.
There were ugly scenes on several occasions where Labour crowds were incited over Super One to wait for this or that Nationalist leader to pelt them with insults outside court. The dehumanisation of the ‘enemy’ and the ‘traitor’ was so effective that normally rational people who go about their business in their daily lives, volunteered in ugly scenes of mob rule.
It is in all this context that Tony Zarb’s and Alfred Griscti’s remarks should be seen. It is a dangerous thing to take these things lightly.
But how to react? Should the PN take up the rhetoric of treason and enemies of the people in order to resist this informal oppression?
There is much room for anger in politics. Anger begets passion. Passion begets ideas. Ideas beget change. Without anger, politics becomes the maintenance of the status quo and therefore logically loses its reason for even existing.
There is much to be angry about we have not been thinking enough about.
There is a growing economic disparity in our society when shopping for healthy food at your average super-market for a family’s weekly supply costs half the average monthly wage.
There is a growing economic disparity when the cost of rent for half decent living leaves no money for a fulfilled existence for a greater number of people; when government consciously freezes its social housing program for 4 years in order to protect the spiralling prices charged by its land-owning funders.
We are not half as angry as we should be when a myth is created of declining poverty when huge chunks of our population are ghettoised and for whom the blinding wealth of expats living the life in one part of the country is as foreign and detached as a rerun of Dallas.
We are nowhere as angry as we should be as economic indicators of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion are manipulated by shifting categories, tweaking definitions, and striking off chunks of people with fictitious public sector jobs exchanged for votes. And when people experiencing these hardships are drugged into a stupor by a combination of pjaċiri and totalitarian propaganda that convinces them they never had it so good.
It is eminently justified to be angry at these realities and to passionately and vehemently argue for change, for the building of a new society that is kinder, and mindful of personal wealth which is inclusive of the needs of people otherwise left behind. It will take a lot of passion to persuade and justify a fresh look at our taxation to ensure we have enough to build a future for our children where a cohesive community and an enhanced environment guarantee a decent quality of life for everyone, not the few who elbow the rest out of their way.
Politics is about harnessing the right sort of anger and putting it to good use. Being angry at Tony Zarb and Alfred Griscti and singling them out as the engineers of lies and the perpetrators of hate they are is a waste of energy. Super One and the other hate-spewing mouthpieces of the Labour party propaganda infrastructure can only be fought by turning the other cheek. They will hopefully one day be embarrassed into bridging the gulf between what they preach and what they do. Even if they are not, being angry at them is a waste of perfectly useful anger.