Fair and foul journalism

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2019-04-15T12:46:08+02:00Mon, 15th Apr '19, 12:46|0 Comments

Last October I wrote a piece ‘Journalism most foul, he said’ on this blog.

I wrote it in response to an article published in the Sunday Times of Malta the day before, authored by the newspaper’s former editor, Steve Mallia.

As I had written in my article, I never wanted to use my blog to go into defensive arguments about the years before 2013. Granted, I was a part of the government at the time, while Steve Mallia was editor-in-chief at the Times of Malta. His job was to hold the government I worked for to account.

At the time I obviously disagreed with the editorial line he took. I disagreed, as one would expect, with his criticism of the government and what I perceived to be his general sympathy with the Labour Party.

But for me to leap from disagreement into the idea that he was not acting on the basis of his independently held convictions, and was somehow serving hidden interests that paid him to hold his views, is not the impression I wished to convey.

Nor was it my intention to suggest that I thought he was bribed to be critical of the PN government and I apologise unreservedly if I made such an inference.

When, in March 2016, Daphne Caruana Galizia published a story on her website alleging that Keith Schembri paid Adrian Hillman — the Managing Director of the company that published the newspapers he edited — for “editorial services”, I was shocked.

I can only assume Steve Mallia was shocked as well.

Assuming he has always acted as a journalist on the basis of his independent convictions, he would have been extremely upset to think someone might believe that his editorial line could have been influenced by the kind of bribery alleged against the managing director that published the newspapers he edited.

I accept that whatever happened between Keith Schembri and Adrian Hillman did not influence Steve Mallia’s editorial choices because it is my sincere view — now as it was in the years up to 2013, when I had a different role altogether — that just because a journalist has a different opinion from mine, it does not necessarily mean they hold that view because of hidden, partisan or worse, criminal, interests.

I think that what Mr Hillman is alleged to have done is abominable. I think that for him to allegedly place the company publishing the Times of Malta in such a vulnerable position is unacceptable and perilous in the extreme. But that does not mean I think Mr Mallia’s integrity was compromised or that he failed to honour his responsibilities as a journalist with independence and loyalty.

I would, in balance, hope for no less respect from Steve Mallia in terms of my own integrity: that my views are held out of my own independent conviction rather than as a part of some hidden grand scheme.

Journalism in Malta, fair and foul, is under enough pressure from those that benefit from the loss of its credibility, without needing our own help to continue to diminish it. Even as we may disagree on the editorial lines, we take the few of us that can believe in each other’s sincere wish to exercise this profession without compensation from governments, political parties or other interests, should be on the same side.

My reaction to Mr Mallia’s article was what I thought at the time to have been a proportionate response to what I felt and feel was unfair criticism. I regret not having had the enlightenment to remember when I wrote that response that he could very well have been as surprised as any of us were when he had heard what Adrian Hillman had done with Keith Schembri.