TVM workers deserve credit for giving their all this past weekend to document and broadcast live every minute Pope Francis was outside his bedroom. If you wanted to see the Pope, you couldn’t miss him on the national broadcaster.
If you wanted to hear him, they broadcast live every one of his interventions. His speeches were in Italian which a large portion of the population which is old enough to remember Paolo Bonolis on Bim Bum Bam would readily understand. Any simultaneous translation would have been annoying.
Reportedly it was the Pope’s express wish to visit Dionysius Mintoff’s Peace Lab to embrace, as he had done in Lampedusa and Lesbos, African migrants who made it to the very periphery of Europe, a fate that could only have been worse if they had died on the way.
TVM televised the meeting and broadcast the speeches of two African migrants who have survived the ordeal and made it to our shores. Daniel Oukegual and Siriman Coulibaly spoke in English, a language I am told by many people who never read my blog, is rejected as a medium of communication by many people of Malta.
The Pope’s decision to drive by the crowds in Żejtun and Birżebbuġa to stop at his destination in Ħal Far forced TVM to do something it habitually avoids, to give a microphone to people who live here but were not born here.
We saw two men, one a hopeful soon to be father, another a survivor of three attempts to cross the sea towards a future. Daniel’s story is of an ‘economic migrant’, branded variously as “illegal” and “clandestine” and treated upon arrival in Malta as a criminal, imprisoned for months, punished for the crime of escaping destitution and pursuing a decent life.
What I find most remarkable, and there is plenty that is remarkable, is that TVM, the public broadcaster, was finally forced to humanise these “illegals”, letting them tell their story, bringing them an inch closer to the people who are prejudiced against them because of their skin colour and because of the hatred spewed against them by the vile foot soldiers on Facebook.
This should be the obligation of a public broadcaster, to give a voice to those denied it. To bring the people of Malta, the natives and Daniel and Siriman, and their friends and families and the neighbours who have shared their experience, closer to together in mutual understanding of their commonalities, their shared dignity as humans to begin with.
The public broadcaster that every week broadcasts a show to educate the inhabitants of the larger island on the fascinating particularities of Gozo should help this country find what we have in common with the people living in misery in Ħal Far, whose life is lightened only by the kindness and relief provided by the churches and the NGOs and the volunteers who see sisters and brothers in the suffering of the forgotten.
A Papal intervention may be miraculous enough to force TVM to make an exception and allow two black people to have their voice heard on national TV. But not even a Pope, not even one as obviously kind and exemplary as Francis, can perform the miracle of softening our hearts.
As politicians elbowed each other to pose for pictures with the Pope, as AFM soldiers in their Sunday best waved their swords at him in welcome, 100 migrants on a boat were denied safe harbour, our doors shut to them, letting Italy step in where we wouldn’t.
Far be it from me to recommend to the government a PR stunt. But they could have let those 100 poor souls in and driven the Pope to welcome them, drawing the world’s attention to their plight and pressing the argument that it is the responsibility of all of Europe to be the hinterland of the safe harbours of Malta.
None of those politicians were really listening to the Pope.
On Sunday in Floriana, Joseph Muscat and his wife frowned in the sun at the faint screens on their phones. They came, even though the day before they were in the same room when Pope Francis thundered on the moral obligation of fighting greed and corruption and against the spoliation of the countryside with the speculation of concrete.
It is one of the blessings of the timing of the visit soon after Parliament was prorogued that Konrad Mizzi was no longer on the guest list.
And the other blessing of the timing of the visit is that the Papal words on the morality of the pursuit of justice did not interfere with the sweeping agenda of the Labour Party’s election campaign.
TVM lived up to its training even during the heady hours of a Papal visit. Commenters buried the clear, ringing warning against corruption, in verbose chitchat on obscure theology and abstractions that are intended to be meaningless to most of the audience. People who cannot discern the remarks on corruption, on migration, on environmental conservation in the Pope’s Italian, will allow commenters to drone on about the “messaġġ ta’ paċi u għaqda” ignoring the effort required of a country to earn peace and unity.
Whenever a guest raised the subject of the Pope’s remarks on corruption, TVM’s hosts moved on to some pre-recorded feature about some 17th century chapel, some miraculous appearance, some earlier Papal visit when thousands flocked the streets, about the legendary religious devotion of the Maltese, and the prettiness of our tourist attractions. There’s no sweeter balm for the burning heat of moral admonition, then self-congratulation.
There was one final Papal warning we will not heed. We were warned against hypocrisy, against living as whitewashed graves, against sitting in judgement of motes in brothers’ eyes, ignoring the beam in our own.
We were warned against shouts of Viva l-Papa, Viva l-Papa, ħej, ħej, screaming through throats still sore from Viva l-Lejber, ħej, ħej, whilst texting on Facebook that if he likes them so much, the Pope should take the blacks to live in his apartment.
And we were warned to remember that sitting in judgement and demanding justice are not the same thing. That demanding justice is a moral imperative. That indifference to injustice, silence in the face of corruption and environmental degradation, amounts to complicity.
Like the voices of black people, calls against corruption and speculation never feature on TVM. In Italian, cushioned in self-congratulation about the praised devotion and enthusiasm of the Maltese, the national broadcaster made a half-hearted, carefully hidden, exception for the Pope in the safest week of a 5-year political term of office for the government, its very first.
This morning, if you ask TVM, we’re in paradise again, where Labour rules, anti-corruption activists are ignored, and the blacks are hidden.