Feet held to the fire

It’s said very often that building a thick skin is a necessity in life. Be it public life, politics, or entering any other field for that matter, there’s always going to be a considerable amount of scrutiny which you’re susceptible to.

In the case of politics, it’s always traditionally been contrived that it’s the primary role of the media to scrutinise those in power, hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions, and expose the consequences of their actions, as well as their words, amongst other functions which the media is expected to carry out.

Specifically, I’ve always believed that these roles consist of the media being expected to educate, inform and entertain the general population, which in turn place their trust in elected representatives, who can also be deprived of their power just as easily.

With regards to the dynamic between the media and politicians in particular, journalists, writers, opinionists and bloggers being able to do so freely doesn’t come without its obstacles and hurdles.

The media is expected to educate, inform and entertain the general population.

Whilst carrying out its duty, the media may find obstructions in its way, be it in the form of attempts to regulate what ought to be a free and unrestricted press, or attempts to antagonise it which emanate from segments of society. These may be institutions, authority figures, or partisan individuals amongst others.

When analysing the case of Malta, we’ve seen various examples manifesting themselves in how the Maltese political climate contains hostile elements which have long been festering within it. These often display themselves in fervent criticisms being levied against the media, such as it being said that journalists are merely consumed by their bias and agenda when asking questions during a press conference; it being insinuated that reporters interviewing authority figures are creating an inconvenience when they’re just carrying out their duty; or journalists being belittled and mocked for simply doing their job.

Far from these being assumptions, these are over-arching descriptions extracted from what we tend to see when we just happen to tune into the news or be scrolling through our newsfeed on Facebook. Naturally, these are just a few moments which the Maltese political scene has to offer to create even further commentary and discussion surrounding this phenomenon.

Together with the examples I just mentioned, perhaps what I come across the most, and which only recently made me disagree with it more than I usually do, is the accusation that all of Malta’s media houses and news outlets are in this massive conspiracy with one another and this resulting in a prevalent agenda or bias being displayed in the style of reporting being adopted.

Be it critical of the government, there are instances when the media is lambasted as ignoring the government’s positive achievements and as trying to thwart some grand plan, with journalists commonly being branded as ‘traitors’ across the Maltese social media sphere.

Be it publishing revelations which are less than flattering with regards to the opposition, we come across cases where the media is accused of attempting to distract its viewers from the irregularities being committed by the government by focussing on those being committed by the opposing side, or even trying to inflict damage onto the already fragile state which the opposition finds itself in.

Now these may very well be just my own suppositions formed upon the basis of my own perception of this matter in particular. However, there is a very tangible sentiment which has been fomenting over the past few years, with this being confrontational in nature, if not antagonistic (Donald Trump touting his ‘the media is the enemy of the people’ charge comes to mind) towards the media, and Malta has certainly not been spared from its wrath.

In an ideal world, the relationship between the media and those in power would be characterised by cooperation and understanding, as opposed to hostility and confrontation. Whilst this may not necessarily be the case most of the time, what remains preserved is the firm belief in what the media’s role is. That includes asking hard questions. That includes uncovering corruption and unethical behaviour being committed by those in power. That includes holding the feet of those in positions of authority to the fire of scrutiny and criticism.

It is important to hold the government accountable for its misdeeds, since it has the capacity and the power to make a concrete difference in people’s lives. Likewise, those vying to be an alternative government warrant being scrutinised and held to the same standard, as they are seeking to obtain the same form of power and authority.

Focussing on the controversial stories involving PN politicians doesn’t reduce the gravity of the stories concerning Labour politicians, and vice versa.

What remains constant, or ought to at least, is the importance placed on the content of such a story, and the outrage it generates, not the outrage at the way the story was uncovered and the ways in which questions were asked.

What remains important, is what a politician did, not who the politician is.

What remains important is what’s professional, public and political, rather than what’s personal and private.

What remains important, is a misdeed not being committed at all, and responsibility being shouldered if it is, not only when a story about it makes the headlines.