People of all ages in journalism, politics, and all that comes with them, last week were rightly paying tribute to John Pilger, the Australian journalist whose dissenting voice provoked countless controversies but also much serious debate on the ongoing issues of capitalism and the vagaries of Western foreign policies throughout the decades.
Pilger, who died at 84, was an emotional commentator, a journalist with a heart. For him, the public interest came first. His daily Bangladesh, Biafra, Cambodia, and Viet Nam chronicles, mostly in the UK media remain, to this day, a testament to his innate commitment to anti-authoritarianism. His ‘Hidden Agendas’ book, among several others, was a masterpiece of left-wing rationale, and unrelentlessly stinging to fluttered Establishments everywhere as his later documentaries (more than fifty) tore into the socio-political fabric.
One thing that distinguished the Sydney-born journalist, however, was his lack of personal vindictive. He was forever sceptical of anything “the agents of power want to tell us” and simply wanted to open the world’s eyes to the failings of governments in many countries, including his native land.
Pilger was the perfect example of the journalist who does not mind going to the law’s very edge and being cynical. Or to present evidence and make accusations for the deliberation of the reading/watching public. But he knew where to stop.
He never asked to have a symbolical funeral cannon turned and fired at the deceased person being taking on his last voyage. Nor did he ever go so low as to make claims about serious illnesses with regard to persons in power, even if they happened to be on his regular list of obvious targets. Nor asking to take that same person out into the square outside to have him shot.
That is where Pilger is seen and proven to be a giant of journalism. His great talent was not wasted in the vindictive and the vitriol. By all means, one can be cycnical, and here this columnist quickly puts his/her hands up. Stopping there distinguishes the professional from the ice-cold, venom-filled investigator whose undoubted talent sadly gets lost in the process.
The BBC never ceases to amaze. We have all grown up to appreciate the immense worldwide service it provides in competition with the relatively new big bangers such as CNN, Fox, and Al Jazeera. Teachers told us to follow it regularly to learn the proper English diction, and bosses asked us to trust them and no one else.
It is only when you listen and watch with an analytical eye that you soon realise there is something odd that, much too often, irks you. The examples are many, so I will stick to a very recent editorial decision that left many speechless.
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark recently surprised her subjects and the whole of what’s left of royal Europe when she announced she will formally step down, i.e. abdicate, on 14th January. Shock, rumble, and tumble.
Wonder of wonders, the BBC news that day started with the item about her abdication. While there were two horrific major wars going on in Ukraine and Gaza, the mere I’ve-had-enough-of-it signal by a queen hardly anyone remembers the name of got top spot. Editorial stupidity at its worst.
In Ukraine and Gaza, the shock, rumble, and tumble are real. Untold number of innocent victims of war needed to take second, third, and even fourth place in the BBC running order. They give you lessons, we were told once too often. Pilger was in his deathbed, alas.
How to do it
Like us, the Welsh are bilingual. Also like us, they are proud of their national language. The difference is in the way the Welsh take specific action to correct what is wrong, compared to our indifferent attitude as we watch the Maltese language fall to pieces before us.
In recent days, thousands of people have signed a petition calling for “Wales” to abolish its English language name, that means dropping “Wales” and using ‘Cymru’ instead. Pretty much the same as Turkey recently has, according to the wishes of the Turks themselves, chosen to adopt the name of Türkiye instead. Ceylon did it before them when it became Sri Lanka. Burma became Myanmar and there are several other nations, particularly in Africa, that have, in the past, chosen to adopt their native names rather than the anglicised ones.
No, Malta (not Molta) does not need that change, but we certainly need to know what’s going on with our language. Having foreign workers in various sectors asked to learn a few phrases by way of communicating with their Maltese clients is a step in the right direction. However, we now urgently need a giant step to stop the rot.
While other countries are seeking to switch back to their very own names, we continue to discard what’s left even in our village names. Wied il-Għajn, such a cute name, is today strictly referred to as Marsaskala. Rabat in Gozo is officially Victoria, and even Gozo itself is often preferred for the charismatic Għawdex. Pettiness? Not if you look at it as a glimpse of the linguistic turmoil going on among us. We have lost the numbers, the sizes, the prices, the ages, the days, the months while our academics work hard to make of Maltese for our students, let alone the foreigners wanting to learn it, as hard and as hateful as ever.
Call a time-out? I don’t know much time is left to avoid staring at the ruins.