The right approach

The team behind 'The Journal' needs to think about how to slowly get people to see them as their allies instead of as duplicitous, faux-neutral propagandists. The first step is to be upfront about where they are coming from and how they see things. They’ve got to acknowledge that everyone is biased and that it’s OK.

Let’s face it and admit it: this Labour government has done a plethora of good and positive things; others could have been done better; other things should never have been done in the first place; and things that circumstances warranted that they be done were not done. So, perhaps, it’s just not on that Labour-leaning media outlets continue to churn out stuff and propaganda material that paint this administration as one that is practically infallible, people-centred, and unreproachable. It has to be noted that it is the same with PN-leaning media outlets.

Most people distrust such media, and most people are right. It’s healthy to question what you’re being told; that’s the mark of an intelligent and independent populace. And the media in Malta are, in fact, “biased” in many ways. Not always towards the left or right, but frequently towards reaffirming the views of an insular establishment.

It should be obvious that there can’t be such a thing as a neutral journalist. We all have moral instincts and points of view. Those points of view will colour our interpretations of the facts. The best course of action is to acknowledge where we’re coming from. If we show awareness of our own political leanings, it actually makes us more trustworthy than if we’re in denial about them.

A number of recent controversies show how supposedly neutral journalists deny their biases. We often witness a very poor attempt at investigative journalism where the journalists, on either side of the political divide, clearly start off with a preconceived premise and make sure that everything that is included in their articles fits neatly into what they have already decided is the reality. Rather than looking for answers, it is often more like looking for the answers they want.

Mind you, it’s not just an anti-Robert Abela and Labour bias. Bernard Grech has some legitimate complaints about the press, too. Because he tells whopping lies all the time, journalists are predisposed to believe the worst about him and his party organisation. But if we automatically assume that Abela or Grech are the only ones in the wrong, we may end up with eggs on our faces. For example, Grech was eventually proven right when he said that the COVID-19 vaccine was not the only solution. Robert Abela, too, was eventually in the right, despite contrary opposition allegations, when an Auditor General’s report into the hospitals concession confirmed that the government that he led was right in dealing with the concession in the way it did.

I’m not inclined to defend either Grech or Abela; I wrote elsewhere more than one article that constructively critiqued them on a number of issues and positions taken. But I also know that if my feelings about them lead me to make factual misstatements about either one or the other, their respective supporters will pounce and claim that my bias destroys my credibility. If I state my prejudices up front, people will see me as more honest than if I pretend to be a mere “fact checker” when I’m clearly an opinion writer.

My personal experience is that centre-right nationalists are far more open to left-wing arguments when they come from people who are honest about their politics and don’t pretend not to have a point of view. When articles or letters are written in the independent media by known Labour-inclined activists, wherein they pinpoint shortcomings or bad governance of this administration, there is a clear indication that many of those nationalist ideologues find the honesty refreshing, and it makes them more likely to hear them out.

Paradoxically, rebuilding trust requires embracing bias. Not embracing untruthfulness, but admitting your politics so that both writer and audience can be critical. Readers – and I am one of them on this digital platform – like transparency. This is also one reason why I tend to respect the views posted in The Journal even when I disagree with them. When it first went online, there was a good crop of opinionists whom I thought were never trying to appear to be something they weren’t. The salesman who tells you what he wants you to buy is more trustworthy than the one who insists he isn’t trying to sell you anything at all.

The road ahead

Ahead lies an interesting but perilous time for The Journal. It will need all the help it can get in order to survive. The only way it can become a viable media outlet is through an outpouring of popular support. Unfortunately, the public did not put enough trust in it when it was first launched, and the team behind this journal needs to think about how to slowly get people to see them as their allies instead of as duplicitous, faux-neutral propagandists. The first step is to be upfront about where they are coming from and how they see things. They’ve got to acknowledge that everyone is biased and that it’s OK.

Politics has seeped into every corner of our lives. Even announcements once thought above rank partisanship, such as garbage collection procedures or road closures, now ignite accusations of political bias. Politics doesn’t just influence people’s attitudes about economic issues and policies; it shapes their perceptions of verifiable reality. Political opinions are formed based on a confluence of external and internal factors, and they can shift over time.

Needless to say, at the end of the day, unfortunately, there will always be that small number of individuals who most need the information but are going to be the least likely to seek it out. It seems that either they don’t realise that they’re wrong or they’re just very entrenched in their beliefs and do not want their beliefs to be changed.

It’s a real pity when we can’t even agree on what’s real in our country. By understanding the thought process, the team behind The Journal can actually design better inculcation without any brainwashing, education without any indoctrination, and learning without any hidden agenda. They can design better information interventions that can actually help people understand the economy, economic policies, immigration issues, energy alternatives, taxation, quality of life standards, environment, civil liberties, social inclusion, infrastructure, traffic flows, and all these phenomena better.

Only time will tell whether such objectives will be reached.

Photo: Negative Space

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