I don’t want to make World Press Freedom Day about myself. I’m just doing this to give a bit of near-home context to RSF’s findings that it is easier to be a journalist in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus, in Orban-smothered Hungary, in conflict-torn Burkina Faso, and in corruption-riddled North Macedonia, than it is to be a journalist in Malta.
Yesterday I criticised in an article the government’s policy of handing out cheques to the entire registered workforce in pursuit of no discernible economic or social policy other than the popularity of the government. I also criticised the people who applaud this policy saying that we can’t expect a government to act in the interests of the weak and the poor if the supporters of the so-called socialist party are not the ones to demand it.
I had gone about my day after publishing that post. In the evening, I received a not entirely unusual electronic message from an anonymous Facebook account owner whose profile picture, without even a hint of irony, is an image of Conan the Barbarian. The man, for I have no doubt it is a man, mostly focused on my appearance of which, he argued, if I had been aware, I would have long already killed myself.
That response in the middle giving thanks to the reaching out is not me being painfully sarcastic. It’s an automated response to the nice people who privately send constructive comments of agreement or disagreement with the stuff I write here which unlike explicit death wishes are sincerely welcome.
Having not given much thought to the article I had written in the morning after I had published it, I wondered what offended Conan the Barbarian that he’d think I would wish myself dead.
This morning I came across this on Facebook.
All the subtleties of my argument in yesterday’s article, all 1,000 carefully crafted words, all the references to political and economic theory and its application to the present context, were summed up by Labour Party propagandist to “Manuel Delia called you idiots”.
Emanuel Cuschieri does this with my writings about once a week or so. He takes what I say entirely out of context, summarises it to the point of absurdity, and makes me a hate figure for his followers who seem to seriously take his word for what I am supposed to have said.
You see, press freedom, is not about whether I have a right to criticise the government or not. It’s about whether I should think again about whether to criticise the government in case some Conan the Barbarian acts on his disappointment that I am not dead.
I don’t expect Emanuel Cuschieri to like what I write about the party that ensures his disproportionate influence. But this is not Emanuel Cuschieri, is it? He is on One Radio, the official radio station of the ruling party. He is the government I criticise. This is not counter criticism. This is retaliation and the mobilisation of an angry mob by the government to punish and silence its critics. This is the conduct of Robert Abela, who just a few days ago told the EU Justice Commissioner that his still invisible media freedom reforms are “game changing”.
As game changing as Emanuel Cuschieri.
I leave for your reading pleasure – for why should I enjoy this alone? – the comments elicited by Emanuel Cuschieri’s post and ask you to think again why it is safer to be a journalist in Congo-Brazzaville than it is to criticise the government in Malta, the land you wanted to believe was a home for the free.