A campaign intended to discredit Repubblika has started and its likely to get worse. The source of the campaign is not obvious and that’s not just because the hand throwing poison in the pot is cloaked. It’s also because many possible sources have motive and opportunity and it’s hard to figure out which one is messing us about this season.
If you campaign for 6 years for justice and insist that crooks – all crooks – get their just deserts, anyone who might feel your campaigning might eventually cost them their freedom would have an interest in undermining you.
The methods are not new. We’ve seen this stuff before.
Consider this screenshot from a blog post that appeared briefly yesterday on a website called the European Business Review. It wasn’t up for long. If you go look for it it’s not there anymore.
In the headline it brands Repubblika “corrupt” and the content in this story repeats well used charges against the NGO, that it’s “politically biased” and “against the government”, and that Repubblika “refused to disclose its sources of funding.”
Being “politically biased” and “against the government” is not an indication of corruption. And Repubblika is subject to the reporting obligations and scrutiny imposed by the law on all NGOs so there’s nothing we can hide about how we earn our money and how we spend it, even if we wanted to. We’ve been targeted for special auditing by the regulators and have been cleared as perfectly compliant every single time.
Then the same article presents two charges that are relatively new. One is that Repubblika’s 2019 protests were “unethical” because a protest was held, this article says, at the house of a government minister and threatened his children. If you don’t remember this event, it is because it didn’t happen. It’s a flat lie.
The article goes on to say that after all the fuss we made when Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed (the article describes Daphne as a he, possibly because it’s google-translated from some language without gender-specific pronouns) we ignored the 2019 physical assault perpetrated by “members of an opposition party” of journalist Amira Tatayea Bangura.
Amira Tatayea Bangura was indeed assaulted in 2019 by opposition activists in her native country of Sierra Leone. Repubblika not raising the issue in its campaigning in Malta for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia is, in the article, demonstrated as evidence that Repubblika “is more concerned with scoring political points than with promoting human rights.”
Now consider this other “report” which hit “Blog King” four days ago. The website the post is on is about a month old, created for just this purpose. Wrongly describing me as Repubblika’s “former president” (I never was) it says I hid my “connections” with Satabank when I reported on its downfall, failing to mention the fact that my wife, Clemence, was a creditor of the bank when it fell. Guilty as charged. She was. She had something shy of €3 (that’s three euro, no missing zeros) in a defunct account at that bank, which was not enough to pay for my legal costs and penalties when I lost in the first instance the SLAPP suit brought against me by that rotten bank’s owner.
The report then continues to convulse at the revelation that some Occupy Justice activists are members of Repubblika and that Repubblika and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation use the same lawyers. Which is of course shocking.
And then perhaps the source of these posts reveals their hand in the conclusion: “Repubblika’s primary focus is branding itself as the best adversary to Pilatus Bank and the Maltese government’s corruption. The basis of their argument is displaying Pilatus Bank as the epitome of evil. Simultaneously, they portray themselves as the ultimate, ideal citizen activists acting out of pure justice ideology.” Quite.
This is disinformation of the first order. It does not even try to be credible or plausible, let alone accurate. It doesn’t try to be a “good” lie because a disinformation campaign does not want to become the focus of the public’s attention. A lie that is subjected to scrutiny would collapse and strengthen the persons or organisation it is lying about. These are not poorly written because the people writing them are incompetent. They’re poorly written because the authors don’t want you to look at them that closely.
All they want you to do is to accept, in the back of your mind, that Repubblika and the people who lead it may not be telling you everything about themselves. That there may be alternatives to their perspectives and narratives. That we, like the people we criticise, have something to hide and should therefore not be trusted either.
We’ve seen this before and it worked. Two summers ago, there was an equally amateurish-looking campaign that targeted me personally to the point that it started spoofing my articles on Yorgen Fenech making it look like I was singing his praises which, if true, would have been an obvious symptom of biologically or chemically induced madness.
That campaign was successful in ways its perpetrators may have not had the imagination to hope it would. I raised the alarm about the targeting and when in an interview I said I was leaving the country for some time to get out of dodge because I was feeling overwhelmed by the pressure, a friendly and independent news organisation accused me of attention-seeking self-importance and of lying. No denial or clarification or explanation could reverse the damage done to my credibility and to my ability to contribute to the cause I know I shared with my newly found public and vociferous critics. I have no regrets about my irreversible diminishment but having lived through it I regret that this might happen to Repubblika.
Repubblika’s work is important. Stopping it or even undermining it or diminishing it would cost the unaware country and reward the criminals who rob it. The criminals won’t stop trying.
Consider the ‘coincidence’ of Illum’s coverage last Sunday of a throw-away detail in a response to a PQ by Byron Camilleri. He was asked in Parliament to list organisations that benefited from donations from applicants under the citizenship-for-sale scheme. The list included Repubblika. It also included Moviment Graffitti who publicly pronounced themselves as stunned as we were at their inclusion. Likely, privately they will also have suspected that their priceless work resisting the capture of what’s left of this country by property-wielding tycoons may have motivated the people who entrapped them with this trumped up ‘scandal’.
Illum did not report the simple fact of the minister’s parliamentary response. It screamed on the front page instead that despite its objections to the citizenship selling scheme, Repubblika “accepted” donations from applicants.
So, they published a lie (which they might justify as a misunderstanding) in order to make us look like hypocrites, people who profit from the schemes they object to.
The impact of this? Think of all the people who profit from the citizenship selling scheme by renting attics to ghosts or charging a commission on filing an application. If they had qualms about the scheme they made money from, stung by our principled objections to it, they have been given comfort, their own real hypocrisy assuaged by our imaginary one.
Why is this happening now? I don’t know. I don’t know who is doing this, let alone why. I know it could be anyone who might be expecting trouble because of something we’ve done.
Consider how over a year ago Joseph Muscat’s house, and his children’s school bags, were raided by the police as part of an inquiry we started four years ago into the hospitals saga. Bernard Grech and Adrian Delia this week rushed to file a report to ask for an investigation that started four years ago when Repubblika fought three court cases just to get it started while the PN stayed mum.
Consider also our class action in court asking for the Electrogas contract to be struck down which, if successful, would cost pezzanovante in Malta and Azerbaijan considerable present and future profits.
Consider our fight in the Pilatus Bank case that if successful would see world-class crooks that dodged the American justice system fail in their expectation to enjoy impunity everywhere, including Malta.
That’s a lot of very powerful, very wealthy, very fearful, very angry people at whose collective feet Repubblika is urinating like an ambulant manneken pis. They won’t take it lying down.
Expect this to get progressively worse. Expect people who should know better to chase any cheap excuse to pronounce their relief that they can now mistrust us.
But also expect us to continue to do our work for as long as we can, in the mindlessly optimistic hope that if we are at least honest with ourselves, some greater justice can see us through.