Deadly reporting

▪️ Deadly reporting ▪️ No cigar butts ▪️ Semper Imprudens ▪️ Miskit ▪️ Revolut-ionary love

The Israel-Gaza war has taken a severe toll on journalists since Hamas launched its unprecedented attack against Israel on 7th October and Israel declared war on the militant Palestinian group, launching strikes on the blockaded Gaza Strip.  As of 28th November, the Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s preliminary investigations showed that at least 57 journalists and media workers, including four Israeli journalists, were killed since the war began.

Of course, it is not the first time that journalists have been killed in wars.  For example, a total of 69 were killed in World War II (1939-45) – the bloodiest war the modern world has seen.  A slightly lower number – 63 journalists – were killed in the Vietnam War, that lasted two decades.

The US-led invasion of Iraq sparked a war that was particularly deadly for journalists – and set a trend that has continued. According to the CPJ, 283 journalists have been killed in Iraq since 2003. The toll in Syria since 2011 has since increased dramatically to between 270 and 715, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.  On the other hand, the death toll in the war between Russia and Ukraine that began in 2022 has been relatively small – 17 journalists in total.  

Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has described the toll in Gaza as “shocking”, with the number likely to rise as the media watchdog continues to investigate reports of several other journalists either injured or missing. RSF has submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging Israel had perpetrated war crimes against journalists in Gaza.

Intentionally targeting journalists, and civilians, is considered a war crime under international humanitarian law. But in the first weeks of the war, the Israeli army issued a statement to international news agencies, stating it could not guarantee the safety of their journalists operating in the Gaza Strip.

Photo: Reuters

“This rate of attrition among media workers has deeply shocked journalists the world over. No one can watch the growing tally of fallen colleagues without mounting horror,” said the secretary-general for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Anthony Bellanger.

The IFJ has issued a call, signed by 80 journalist groups, for Israeli authorities to take full responsibility for protecting journalists covering the conflict. “We demand an explicit commitment from the Israelis that their armed forces will take every effort to ensure that the grim tally of journalists who have died in this conflict rises no further. This is simply unacceptable, and the Israeli government will have to accept its responsibilities.”

Under Article 79 of Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, which codifies a customary rule, journalists in war zones must be treated as civilians and protected as such, provided they play no part in the hostilities.  Israel cannot simply ignore, or be allowed to ignore, its obligations under international law.

No cigar butts

Few people in Malta would have heard of Charlie Munger, who died at the age of 99 recently.  He was Warren Buffett’s trusted confidante.  Buffett is known the world over for having built Berkshire Hathaway on the ruins of a failing textile maker and turned it into an investiment juggernaut with a market valuation of $785bn.

But Mr Buffett himself gracefully concedes that Barkshire Hathaway “could not have  been built to its present status without Charlie’s inspiration, wisdom, and participation.”  Certainly, Munger did not mince his words when he thought that his business partner was making a mistake.  In fact, he is known to have steered Buffett away from buying mediocre companies,  in spite of the very cheap prices for them, and used to call them “cigar butts”. Munger did not die poor.  His fortune was estimated at $2.3bn.

Munger, known for his maxims about business, investing, and life, liked to sip Coca-Colas and nibble See’s Candies peanut brittle (both owned by Berkshire Hathaway).  In between he would teach Buffett – in Buffett’s own words – about durable competitive advantage and the importance of understanding what he called “the edge” of one’s competence – in other words, knowing what you don’t know.

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett (left) and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger

In The Journal, columnist Frans Camilleri recently wrote an opinion-piece under the heading “I don’t know”.  It was very appropriate. Munger used to emphasise that, if one has a misapprehension regarding his own competence, he’s going to make terrible mistakes.  In fact, Munger always emphasised the study of mistakes rather than successes, both in business and other aspects of life.  I am sure that Munger must have made some mistakes of his own in life, but they can’t have been that many when one remembers the fortune he built and the tributes that poured in when his death was announced.

Semper Imprudens

I have to write about something that seriously threatens my mental stability.  Anger and rage are not good for me, but I feel compelled to express them in connection with a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) that none of four local councils that were reviewed by it respected procurement regulations in 2022.   Sorry, correction – they not only failed to conform with the regulations; some were found to actively seek “to bypass tendering rules”.

I have no hesitation in naming the four: Marsascala, Mdina, Mosta, and Naxxar.  Is it a coincidence that all four begin with the letter M?  The Four Ms were discovered to not have receipts for all their purchases, paid more than they had agreed to, bought things without the required three quotations, and, and, and.  The procurement failures were so many that it is impossible to list them all here.

One could say that The Four Ms were saints, because five others simply ignored the NAO when it wrote to them about issues flagged in their audited accounts.  The Defiant Five were accused of being irresponsible; I find the NAO to be so nice – I would have called them criminal.

Then, there were The Careless Seven who, when queried by the NAO, sent their reply to somebody else.  Fortunately, they did not send their reply to the Leader of the Opposition by mistake!

Then, there were The Unpunctual 20.  They, at least, replied, but not in time.  The NAO did not say whether it was perhaps because the  Secretary’s calendar was out of date.

The prize, however, goes to The Sod-you Two – I must name them too, Ħamrun and St Julian’s – who, being afraid of being put in one of the categories I have mentioned, decided not to risk it at all and did not bother to file their financial statements.

Is this the sorry state of affairs that we have allowed our local councils to sink to?


Congratulations to author Karl Schembri whose book The Journey of Miskit, the Brave Stoat has been launched by the Norwegian Refugee Council. The book is also available in Spanish and Norwegian.  The book will help displaced children across the world deal with trauma and distress.

The book, which is illustrated by Ana-Maria Cosma, is already being used in Sudan, where children have fled from untold atrocities, and is already translated into several languages that NRC works with. 

Miskit gets lost in the woods and forges an unlikely friendship with a fox, a snail, and some lost humans.  She sets off on a journey of self-discovery and bravery that teaches her to find meaning in life’s challenges and fears. The main character was chosen by Syrian refugee children in Jordan who voted on their favourite animal characters in an international competition for artists, won by Cosma, the book’s illustrator.

Camilla Lodi, the head of NRC’s Better Learning Programme praises the “inspiring and heart-warming story”.  She says that the book will be a valuable tool for educators and caregivers worldwide to engage children in important discussions about empathy, resilience, and mental health.

If there’s anything that I will criticise, it is the assumption that the book should only be read by children.  On the contrary, I think that it would be an equally valuable tool to teach many adults in Malta who badly lack the said empathy, with serious consequences for their mental balance.

Revolutionary love

Many of Malta’s experts complain thatthe Maltese are not creative enough.  Sometimes, I wonder what they’re missing.  The latest demonstration of such creativity was a report in the Times of Malta that the popular mobile banking app Revolut has now become the favourite app used by some people to message their lovers behind their partners’ backs.

Revolut allows users to transfer funds, buy cryptocurrency, and set up saving accounts, but it can also be used to message other people and chat.  So, somebody who is cheating on his partner can tell him/her that she/he is making a payment by Revolut when what she/he is actually doing is to tell the person at the other end that she/he is head over heels in love and would like nothing better than to be in his/her arms. 

In the new digital age, infidelity comes in different forms, as social media and dating apps allow people from all over the world to connect and communicate with others. Some people even download apps in different languages or change the name of the person they are having an affair with on their phone so that their partner would not suspect anything.

Photo: Times of Malta

In a national study conducted by Sagalytics and Sex Clinic Malta earlier this year, as reported in the Times of Malta, one in 10 people admit to cheating on their partner at some point in their life. When asked if they ever had sexual contact with another person when they were in a relationship with someone else, 11.6% of respondents said they did.  According to the research, three out of 10 men admitted they sometimes wish to have an affair with a person who is not their partner.

Of course, cheating on one’s partner is not totally straightforward.  “Cheating partners talk about the pressure they feel about living a double life,” says therapist and lead clinician at Sex Clinic Malta, Matthew Bartolo.  The study did not say whether cheating partners who were caught out ended their marriage or relationship via a Revolut chat and a bank settlement.

Main photo: AFP/Hazem Bader

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