So Dione Borg, the grand old gentle doyen of PN journalists, took umbrage at a guest post on this website that criticised journalists for being a pale comparison to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s investigative prowess.
The guest post was fairly critical of the press community and was generic in its attack so it is hardly surprising Dione Borg’s pride was hurt.
He rather weakened his own argument about his journalistic merits in his response. He clearly showed an inability to distinguish between a guest post – for clarity, for it appears to be needed, a post written by a guest – and a post, such as this, written by me. A vague understanding of the basics would have been forgivable had he not put in quotes an extract from the guest post and introduced the direct speech with ‘Manuel Delia qal …’
But all that is fine too.
I am happy to publish well-written, well-argued guest posts even if they may not reflect my views. In this specific case, within the context were the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia was causing us to re-examine the health of our democratic institutions, I thought it a significantly positive contribution for a person not from the trade to provide a critical view of the fourth estate. Journalism in Malta is not exactly world-class and local audiences have a right to express dissatisfaction about journalists as much as they have a right to criticise judges, politicians and prelates.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Dione Borg has done some brilliant, brilliant work as a journalist. I do not write this as a form of apology to him. I write it because I never thought any different.
But now he opened the subject Dione Borg needs to be prepared for some arguments he may not be all too keen to hear and this time he can quote me directly as this is not a guest writing.
Journalists that are employees of a political party may do work that looks like journalism, may have the skills of the best journalists and may invest their time and energy in the quality of their work as much as a Pulitzer writer. But they are still functionaries of a political party.
Their judgement is conditioned by that reality. Their speech of courage in the face of risk is hollow because they have an entire party that has their back. For stretches of time an entire government even, which covers them and for which they cover when their vocation as journalists commands them to challenge and reveal.
Their pursuit of stories is conditioned by the interests of their employer and their employer has interests in any matter of public interest by definition.
In a democratic context journalists in the employ of a political party add nothing to the health of the fourth estate, rather they dilute it. Dione Borg and his colleagues will tell us little on the stories they live close to within the Nationalist Party itself. They will provide a version of the truth that their opponents will try to hide and in that way, in the absence of free press particularly in the TV sector, they are inescapably indispensable.
But immature is the democracy that relies on two sets of corporatized lies to cancel each other out instead of independent journalists to seek for the truth.
The PN has always been a reluctant owner of the media. It resorted to broadcasting from Sicily when the state monopolised the airwaves and banned even the names of its leadership from being pronounced. When TV licences were issued the PN passed on the opportunity it itself had created for others and was dragged to the sector kicking and screaming several years later.
We have now reached a sorry extreme. The bulk of party functionaries work in its media. Its so-called journalists are running in elections for the party executive committee an heretofore unheard of absurdity resorted to, to replenish Adrian Delia’s poor backing in the executive committee.
A mutual dependence is being created by the party leader on his journalists to support him with their votes and by the journalists on the party leader to keep them in employment. The obfuscation of credibility on both sides helps neither the party’s political conduct nor its journalism, such as it is.
Notice how Dione Borg goes on Facebook to get comfort in the support of cult followers who assume he must be correct because of who he is and who employs him. They do not check the basic error that he quotes someone else’s words and presents them as mine and instead cock their guns as he blows the whistle on open season.
Take the time to read through the comments below. You will find familiar adjectives such as ‘traitorous’, ‘self-serving’ and ‘false’, flattering complements in comparison to some adjectives the same usual suspects had addressed to Daphne Caruana Galizia a few weeks back.
And then comes the classic ‘man with an agenda’: an undefined secret plan to concoct who knows what to who.
You are writing in praise of a party functionary and you think I am the one with an agenda?
I know Dione Borg reasonably well and I have known him for many years. I’m actually rather fond of him.
If there is something foremost on his mind is personal freedoms from oppressive and violent regimes. He is a PN employee before being a journalist because he was with the PN in the trenches fighting for basic freedoms.
Why should my agenda be different? And why is it that if not entirely consistent with the agenda of the PN – and indeed it is not – is it not possible to believe that my commitment to truth and freedom in this country cannot be fulfilled without the need to be serving someone else’s agenda?
Perhaps because if the commitment is to be sincere, then among the changes that are needed to the status quo, that has oxidised our democracy, is the need once and for all journalists are divorced from party functionaries, political parties are prevented from owning or controlling media of their own.
There, when no party has your back, is the freedom to challenge all authority without fear or favour and the real fear of being alone on the frontline like only Daphne Caruana Galizia was.