Norma Saliba and Quinton Scerri defended, poorly, TVM coverage of conditions inside the prisons after a complaint filed with the Broadcasting Authority. The Broadcasting Authority ordered PBS to carry a feature which depicts the “real situation” and which “respects people’s intelligence”. Which means TVM’s reporting did not report on the real situation and was disrespectful of people’s intelligence.
If a TV broadcaster – particularly, though by no means exceptionally, if they are broadcasting on the national station – presents a false reality, lies to their audience particularly about something the audience cannot verify for themselves and that is a matter of public interest, they are failing in their most basic professional duty. And they should be fired.
Consider that reporting on the prison is not like reporting on the quality of food at a restaurant. Basic ethics would require a broadcaster not to tell you the food served at a restaurant is good when it is really shit. We compromise with this basic ethical standard on the grounds of advertising. The shit restaurant pays the broadcaster to say the food is good and the broadcaster lies to you and tells you its good.
That’s bad. But. If you listen to the recommendation of the broadcaster and go to the restaurant only to find it falls short of the expectations you were given, you will not believe the broadcaster in future anymore.
Back when this sort of thing mattered there used to be film review shows on TV. The film distributors and the cinema owners used to pay for the adverts and sponsor the show. They didn’t like it when the resident critic told their audience the films out this week were all mindless, unwatchable drivel (which is what comes out most weeks). The sponsors did not want objective movie criticism from the TV shows they sponsored. They wanted extended adverts to drag people to their theatre box office.
Quinton Scerri’s “Popolin”’s advertiser here is the government. They’re not trying to get you to visit the prisons, but judging by what I’ve read about the report they carried about prison conditions, they made prison sound like a place I’d want to move into.
What do the government hope to achieve? They want you to find comfort in the lie that prisoners are treated well in prison so you don’t have to worry about all the suicides, the persistent reports of brutal psychological violence, and the grotesque proto-fascist regime run by the prison director.
They want you to believe a lie, which in any case, unlike the shitty restaurant and unwatchable film, you cannot test for yourself. You’ll never know it’s all a lie. You’ll never know your taxes are paying for a public TV station that is set up in order to lie to you.
In this case, prisoners could not really complain about TVM’s reporting about their living conditions. It was left to people of conscience like Andrew Azzopardi and Peppi Azzopardi to get this decision out of the Broadcasting Authority. Their concern was that TVM’s lies make life for prisoners even harder and put them in greater danger, because you’ll look away from Alex Dalli’s clowning and Byron Camilleri’s ice-cold attitude to the health and life of people entrusted in his care.
I’m in court suing the government to let me visit prisons and detention facilities in order to report in a manner that truly portrays the “real situation”, not what your government wants you to believe the situation is. This is not about my “right” as a journalist. It’s about your right to know, so that as a citizen you can do what you please with that information. Hopefully, if you’re aware of brutality in prison, you’ll act in a way – by protest or opinion or vote – that makes it clear you do not accept that brutality and want it to stop.
I’m not allowed to report the “real situation” in prison. Who needs me if you have Norma Saliba and Quinton Scerri on TVM?
And if they’re lying to you about the prison, they’re lying to you about everything else. Go on. Watch Pravda TV. On there we are indeed the best in the world.