If Zeus were still alive, he’d have blasted Robert Abela with a freshly forged thunderbolt yesterday when he spoke from his party platform about the sacred right of journalists to ask politicians tough questions.

The hypocrisy festival came after Bernard Grech’s complaint that a TVM journalist ate him alive a week after the same journalist interviewed Robert Abela with gloved Audrey Hepburn fingers.

This is not the place to discuss Bernard Grech’s complaint. Politicians should be prepared for uncomfortable treatment at the hand of journalists and if a journalist is incapable of serving a politician they like with the right rigour of journalistic inquiry they should have the decency to let someone else interview Robert Abela. Bernard Grech can speak for himself anyway. That’s not what this is about.

This is about Robert Abela presenting himself as some guardian of journalistic freedom. “Wiegħed li se jkun l-aqwa difensur tal-ġurnalisti kollha,” the General Workers’ Union website quoted Robert Abela saying. ‘He promised he would be the foremost defender of all journalists’. What is this? Is Robert Abela campaigning for some other post? Because he’s been prime minister for more than a year and it’s long past the time of promises.

Robert Abela, defender of journalists rings as hollow as Henry VIII, defender of the faith, or Emperor Nero, patron saint of firefighters.

Still. If this has been a Damascus experience, here are some things we’d need to see Robert Abela do before we can consider him even remotely respectful of journalists, let alone their foremost defender.

Robert Abela should answer parliamentary questions without excuses, without delay, without obfuscation and ambiguity. He should be accountable to parliament and never seek to mislead or obscure information that should rightly be submitted to parliament.

That comes up because he has recently conjured up a new level of excuse to hide from parliament information about the government’s spending in marketing, advertising, communication and propaganda on formal and social media. Such information should be transparently available. Media spend should be apportioned to various media on objective criteria. We know it isn’t. On the contrary government spending is used as a carrot to reward sycophants and its denial is used as a stick to punish detractors.

There should be no political discretion on which media the government spends more or less money. Using public funds for purely political messaging should be abolished and funding should go directly to political parties according to objective criteria. Political parties can then provide the public with their policy alternatives and the public can make up their own mind.

The government should only spend money to advertise public service announcements, administered by the civil service for objective public purposes and in response to a measurable public need. The government should spend money to tell us why we should trust a vaccine without stunning us with cheap propaganda videos of empty freezers and rippling prime ministerial muscles.

Robert Abela should also direct his ministers to respond to freedom of information requests in a timely and constructive manner, providing the information requested and to stop finding all manner of excuses to refuse requests. A transparent government that is open about its internal workings and its decision-making process can be held to account. A secretive and opaque government is hostile to journalists and hostile to democracy whatever the prime minister says to applause at a press event controlled by people his party employs.

Robert Abela should reform the whistleblower law in line with the new European directive on the subject. He should remove from his own office the power to decide who gets whistleblower protection and who gets sent to prison instead. He should protect whistleblowers from retribution and he should stop state agencies from being used to hunt them down.

He should hold regular press conferences and his office should hold open press briefings. He should stop people working for his own party from hogging press time with hero-worshipping camouflaged as questions. He should schedule regular open-ended interviews with independent journalists and he should prioritise the journalists that are hostile to his policies over the ones that sing his praises for a reward.

He should abolish the practice of making government announcements on his party’s TV station, using instead official channels for official communications. The first channel for policy announcements should be parliament where the prime minister than allows Members to grill him. He should then immediately make himself available to the press.

He should introduce a strict response-time policy for his office and his ministers’ offices for press inquiries. When a journalist files questions, the request should be immediately acknowledged and if a reply is not possible within the same business day, interim replies should be sent at the beginning and the end of every subsequent business day explaining the delay and giving an updated estimated time of completion. Ministers should answer the journalist asking them the question first before making wider announcements or taking the subject to some other media house.

Robert Abela should denounce Facebook trolling by his supporters, order all government and party officials to quit Facebook groups that organise assaults on journalists and renounce the technique as a propaganda tool.

He should warn all Ministers, all party officials and apparatchiks and all persons of trust against owning and using fake social media profiles.

He should dismiss from his service or the service of his government or his party the repeat offenders of unethical misconduct on social media and perpetrators of assaults on journalists and their freedoms. He can start with Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Robert Musumeci and Josef Cutajar.

He can draw up and publish for consultation a white-paper proposing a reform of the Broadcasting Authority widening its governance from the current system of having political parties hog the entire space and opening it up instead to academia, civil society and representatives of the independent press.

He can go to parliament with proposals to change the Broadcasting Act to allow the broadcasting regulator to impose rules of balance and impartiality on all TV stations, including the one his party owns.

Robert Abela should guarantee the security of tenure to journalists working for the public broadcaster so that they stop fearing consequences when they investigate the government’s conduct. He should withdraw political influence on the hiring of the editorial staff at TVM and allow the replacement of the party crony that currently runs the place like a branch of the Labour Party.

He should allow Jason Azzopardi’s private member’s bill to protect journalists from SLAPP suits to be debated in parliament and he should vote to support its adoption.

He should introduce public funding for independent media but submit it to independent and transparent parliamentary oversight to eliminate political discretion.

Robert Abela should reform the Department of Information and direct it to provide access to the Maltese government for international journalists. Requests for interviews by the international press should be invariably entertained and the practice of imposing conditions such as who else international journalists might speak to or what subjects they may want to discuss as preconditions for the government’s cooperation should be abolished. This is not Pyongyang so the government should stop behaving with international journalists as if it was.

He should empower the DOI to refuse to carry statements by his office or his ministers’ offices that compromise the independence of the civil service or that transform it into a propaganda vehicle for his party. He can start by whipping Silvio Schembri who is a repeat offender in this regard.

Robert Abela should change the law so that if I were to die today, my children do not inherit the libel lawsuits I am facing because of my work. He should denounce Joseph Muscat for continuing to pursue Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family in court after she was killed because of her work.

He should stop harassing the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry and apologise for having done so in the past.

He should dismiss from his service the officers who detained journalists in the Ambassadors’ Room in Castille that fateful November night in 2019.

Robert Abela should instruct the police to ensure all journalists are safe. That the provision of security for threatened journalists should not be subjected to review by the executive and that oversight on the safety for journalists should be under a parliamentary commission with the participation of organisations representing journalists.

He should publicly and unambiguously recognise Daphne Caruana Galizia’s role as an anti-mafia and anti-corruption journalist killed for reporting on the misconduct of his predecessor and his former party colleagues. He should apologise to her family for the loss they have suffered due to the misconduct of the Maltese State and he should seek to compensate them.

He should ensure that justice is assured in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia. That will require him to ensure resourcing and protection for the police, the magistrates and the judges working on the case. It will ensure the dismissal of anyone in public life who in a way contributed to Daphne’s suffering at the hands of the state and the continuation of the suffering inflicted on her family after her killing. It will also require him to change laws and update the institutional framework to ensure nothing of the sort happens again.

Then we can start talking about what Robert Abela needs to do to defend journalists and journalism. Until then he’s just sitting on Joseph Muscat’s shoulder, soaked in the blood of the journalist killed under his watch.