MaltaToday | 22 June 2008 | Muscat, freedom of speech and other lurid stories

OPINION | Sunday, 22 June 2008

Muscat, freedom of speech and other lurid stories

Saviour Balzan

When newly anointed Labour leader Joseph Muscat appointed the one and only Joe – alias Peppi – Azzopardi to the MLP’s commission on an internal code of ethics for its media, I could have fallen right from my high chair. Because I was suddenly reminded that politics is all about memory loss, and the art of hypocrisy.
If there is one person in the whole frigging universe that should not be appointed, let alone be considered for a Labour press ethics commission, it has got to be Joe aka Peppi.
[I will be referring to Peppi as Joe, because he was after all born with that very Christian name until he changed it to Peppi because another Joseph had the temerity to write in to a newspaper with the same name and surname – God forbid our clones should ever capitalise on our own success: from now on, consider changing your name, as in Lawrence becomes Lorenzo, Joseph becomes Guzeppi, Louis to Luigi, Arnold to Arnie, and Josie to simply Jos].
Well, as we all know, Joe has little or no sympathy for the Labour party. He is perfectly justified in deciding where and when he should like or dislike the Labour party. But to have had his own agenda, waged a war, performed diatribes against the MLP and suffered the same from Labour, and then for both sides to suddenly decide to bury the hatchet and sleep in the same bed… is extraordinary.
So when Joseph Muscat decided to unilaterally appoint Joe to the ethics commission he did what Alfred Sant had actually tried to do 15 years ago.
Well, Joseph (not Joe) cannot possibly remember the finer details of the past. When he was barely 15 years of age and a sweet teenager from Burmarrad, that is in 1993, Labour leader Alfred Sant, who would win the hearts of disgruntled Nationalists in 1996, had asked Joe (still not known as Peppi) to sit on a commission on fiscal morality or something to that effect.
At the time Joe was, for his sins, ‘working’ together with me in Alternattiva. And I was the first to tell Joe in one of those rowdy committee meetings that it was completely unacceptable that he takes up such a role within the MLP when he represented and militated with the Greens. Of course, Joe thought it was perfectly fine to be here, there and everywhere. But in reality Joe was looking for a fight: if Niccoló Machiavelli ever had a faithful disciple it is Joe.
Never one to take no for an answer, Joe was unsurprisingly miffed. Slowly but surely, he moved out of the Greens and later publicly accused it of being autocratic. It was here that he discovered Lou Bondì, and it was in those years that the PN machine launched its interminable artillery attack on the Greens.
Joe must have been very happy with himself.
Joseph Muscat may well forget the past, but I choose not to. Joe is surely happy to have finally landed himself on a Labour commission. It is, I guess, another way of neutralising Labour’s traditional antipathy towards Where’s Everybody.
But it confirms my belief that if Joe lives to the venerable age of 84 and Lou till the age of 89 (and I sincerely hope they both will), there is no doubt in my mind that they will still be hosting Xarabank and BondiplusKartanzjan on PBS.
And it also confirms how Joseph Muscat is attempting to win the hearts and souls of everyone by being what he should not be: a Nationalist. Just in case you did not know what a Nationalist is, she or he is a person who refuses to step on anyone’s toes but waits for the opportune moment to club you when no one is looking.


Freedom of speech is of course very much dependent on which country you happen to be operating from. If you were based in London and for example reproduced this column in a tabloid or broadsheet, it would be one of many semi-fiery contributions. Indeed it would be mild by Anglo-Saxon standards.
But in the Maltese context, and with our current repressive press laws, what is good for Fleet Street is considered to be blasphemy and criminal for the Republic Street.
In the past weeks, I have decided to swallow quite a big chunk of my pride and accept the reality of the Maltese press laws and bow my head. I find it very difficult to believe that what is considered in other European countries to be fair comment, is considered here to be libellous.
Readers may be disappointed by the calming of the tenacious and seemingly unsinkable pen of yours truly. That I have to bow down to circumstances NOW, is inevitable.
It is a choice I am making in full knowledge that as things stand today, our media publications are forlorn and solitary in promoting a free transcription of events and analysis of the network-ridden state of affairs in this country.
The last months have taught me that when you are alone, no one will come to your side, no one will turn to you and ask you if you need a helping hand.
The next months will require more single-mindedness on what is in my view more important: fighting the political libel suits against this newspaper. But we cannot wage a war on every front.
So when I receive a summons to face libel proceedings from Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, I know I have no option but to fight the liar tooth and nail.


It goes without saying that Jeffrey has dominated the news this week. I am not at all perturbed by my surreal encounter with the man who would have been minister. There I was, in a separate studio at the One TV building. Just because Jeffrey did not have the gall, or shall we say balls, to face the press.
Not to have testicles is one thing, but not to see the writing on the wall is far worse. I have yet to meet a person on this rock who believes that JPO should stay on.
But you have to give the man some credit for being able to believe that something is white when it is black. JPO will be blamed for this embarrassing state of affairs, but whether he stays or goes, there will be a sizeable amount of muck and mud hanging onto Lawrence Gonzi and his prime lieutenant Joe Saliba.
It was they who propelled JPO to stardom, by sending him on audiovisual guerrilla missions day after day to counter Labour and protest his innocence, and it was they who gave the impression that JPO was God’s gift to the future of the PN.
JPO is of course under immense moral pressure to call it a day. In another scenario he would have been asked to leave.
And as I have said over and over again, he cannot be forced out because the Nationalists have a simple one-seat majority. It’s a slight majority, and only because they managed to turn the Mistra scandal into a concerted persecution campaign against JPO – when they knew very well in the last days of the campaign what a mess JPO had landed the PN in.
But that is politics. Indeed Joe Saliba admitted that though he thought JPO should go, he felt that he had needed to defend him… ‘politically’.


There has been a lot of talk about the modern and moderate looks of George Abela. But a closer look at the man and the answers that he gives to the press reveal that Dr Abela is no different to any of the old exponents of Old Labour.
Asked simply whether he would submit a candidature for the European elections, Dr Abela suggested that we do not ask the question.
The same approach can be detected with other old Labourites. The answer by Alex Sceberras Trigona to last Wednesday’s MaltaToday as to whether he would be standing for the post of international secretary of the MLP, was met with a convoluted response, but almost no reply at all.
If Dr Abela or Notary Sceberras Trigona wish to give the impression that they are representative of a new way of thinking in politics, they had better get used to the idea that some sections of the media today are irreverent and direct.


And finally, hip-hip-hurrah for the new chairman at MEPA. With all due respect, why did the choice of a new chairman have to be a former associate of Lawrence Gonzi during his long tenure at Mizzi House?
I guess it has got a lot to do with choosing people you can trust. Or if that isn’t a good enough answer, the alternative answer should read: “In his traditionally magnanimous manner of dealing with sensitive public appointments, the Prime Minister has opted for a former close associate to ensure that all forms of hanky-panky at MEPA are dealt with expeditiously. As a fine example of how this can be achieved: one should take a closer look at what has happened at Mistra and what lies in store.”
Hallina Lonz – pull my other one!




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