Opinion | Sunday, 30 May 2010

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Make it to the airport on time

The press has a very important role in a democracy – it monitors the conduct of politicians and exposes them whenever they cross the line. It is in fact likely that politicians would be much less circumspect in their behaviour were it not for the fact that they fear exposure. Making the headlines for all the wrong reasons must be a politician’s worst nightmare.
There are numerous stories of politicians who had their careers blighted or even terminated because of revelations made by the media. Take the case of David Blunkett, for example. At the beginning of 2003 his political career was going strong – he had the support of Tony Blair and was Home Secretary. By the end of year, however, his career was over. He was forced to resign after papers such as The Daily Mirror and The Sun published emails that showed he had helped fast-track a Visa application for his lover’s nanny.
Another interesting story is that of Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand. In 2004 she was crucified in the media when her motorcade was caught over-speeding on the way to the airport.
In Malta we are very lenient on our politicians. It is highly unlikely that a Maltese minister would have to resign if it emerged that he made a couple of phone calls to help speed up some permit or other for a friend. The press do not make a hue and cry whenever a ministerial motorcade is caught over-speeding. Unfortunately we accept this behaviour as par for the course, so it is not newsworthy.
I was therefore astounded to read the “scoop” published by The Sunday Times a week ago – Joseph Muscat and his family were late for their flight to Dubai, en route to Australia. We were regaled with considerable detail – including information about the bowel movements of the opposition leader’s offspring and eye-openers about his childcare arrangements. I was amazed that the intrepid reporter in question did not inform us what seats each and every member of the Labour delegation was assigned.
I am not saying that The Sunday Times should not report this kind of behaviour. It is indeed interesting for the public to know about these escapades because one can learn a lot about the character of a politician from such incidents. What irks me, however, is selective exposure. The Times might occasionally report some minor misdeed by a PN politician of no consequence, but it definitely does not go out of its way to expose the top honchos in the party.
In order to be effective, the media has to be impartial; otherwise they are making a mockery of their role as watchdogs.

Joseph Muscat needs a watch
Well, whatever the motivation of the journalist in question, now we know that Joseph Muscat turned up late for the Emirates flight to Dubai.
The leader of the opposition is working very hard to improve the image of his party. Unfortunately, whether he likes it or not, his behaviour is under scrutiny and reflects on his party.
Muscat is familiar with airport procedures. He knows that the gates are closed approximately 45 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart. So what does the fact that he turned up at the airport just 15 minutes before departure tell us about the character of the man?
Well, first of all it tells us that he has terrible time management skills and that he needs to invest in a watch. It is after all not the first time that he has turned up late for events that he should have made an effort to be on time for. This does not augur well for the country should he become Prime Minister in a few years’ time. If he cannot even get his family to the airport on time then how can he expect us to trust him to manage the entire country?
Furthermore, the incident raises serious concerns about the guy’s manners. Leaving people waiting is rude – we have all heard the saying that “punctuality is the politeness of princes.” I guess that we can now conclude that Muscat is no prince – he has no problem leaving prime ministers, kings and now an entire planeload of people waiting for him.
It also tells us that he expected the flight to be held for him. Let’s face it – Emirates would not have waited for you or me, would it? However it did wait for the leader of the Opposition and his family. If he expects such preferential treatment while still in opposition, what will he be like once he makes it to government? He can tell us to call him Joseph till the cows come home, but his behaviour clearly indicates that he considers himself to be above common mortals who have to turn up at the airport before the gates close.
The reality is that the Labour Party has still not cottoned on to the fact that the average voter remains to be convinced that they are capable of governing the country. Incidents such as this one might appear to be inconsequential to them, but they are sadly mistaken. People read these stories and draw their own conclusions. Issuing silly statements along the lines of “the delegation was at no time informed it was late” makes the situation even worse. Surely Muscat is capable of reading his watch and working out the fact that he is late, is he not?
Whether they like it or not, the movers and shakers in the Labour Party are under media scrutiny. The slightest indiscretion will be reported on and made much of. This means that the top people in the party must watch their every move and be whiter than white. Not fun, true, but it comes with the job.

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