UNESCO declared May 3rd as World Press Freedom Day with the aim of increasing awareness about how fundamental the freedom of the press is to a democratic society. In the last decade alone, over 800 journalists have been killed worldwide in an attempt to silence whatever truth-bomb they were about to drop. Every year, UNESCO celebrates World Press Freedom Day by holding a conference. This year’s theme is ‘Information is a Public Good’, whereby the conference calls to attention the risk of annihilation of small local news media worldwide.
In this year’s World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders (RSF), Malta has obtained the 81st place out of 180 . This has gone down from 2013 where Malta ranked 45th. RSF says that the decline in the ranking is due to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, whose repercussions are still felt 3 years later. In light of this news, Insite Malta asked Julian Delia, Times of Malta journalist, why this is.
Besides the DCG case, do you think there are any other factors which contributed to Malta’s low rating on the World Press Freedom Index?
Yes; while Daphne’s assassination was a blatantly obvious effort to silence the media, there is a whole host of other problems. To begin with, politicians regularly and systemically attempt to discredit us and our reports by weaving falsehoods and half-truths in convenient spins.
There’s also the fact that political parties in Malta have their own media stations which further distort the media landscape, while polarising political tribalism even further. Freedom of information requests are routinely dismissed, government figures actively cover-up wrongdoing and generally try to stonewall stories in every way possible.
We are in the throes of a mafia state run by a political duopoly that makes a mockery of due process, the rule of law and the basic, fundamental values that hold a democratic society together. In fact, the government’s cosmetic efforts to adjust to principles of good governance have not made a dent in our ranking in the index.
RSF also reported that globally, trust in journalism has decreased. Is this the case in Malta? If so, why do you think that is?
I think that due to the level of gaslighting and manipulation of public sentiment that politicians engage in, trust in media outlets has definitely decreased and Malta is no different. In fact, it is arguably worse: the web of corruption is pervasive enough to the point of having directly affected media outlets themselves.
Our ability to perform our job to the best of our abilities is regularly thwarted by bad actors and misinformation campaigns, making the likelihood of erroneous reporting higher. The public, in turn, is alienated, bombarded by bad news and scandal after scandal and has become desensitised.
Overall, while readership remains strong and many still support the media’s efforts to stand up as the fourth pillar of democracy, there is a certain tension that one can feel when talking about ‘being a journalist’ in front of new people. Some praise you for having the guts to hold power accountable, others tell you to leave.
Are consumers practicing media literacy effectively, especially during these pressing times?
Not really, no. Most readers stop reading after the fourth line of a story, and many important issues often go ignored while click-baiting articles about celebrities and gossip spread on social media like wildfire.
While I might be a bit too harsh with my assessment, I feel like the average citizen does not devote enough attention to current affairs. In the age of misinformation, knowledge is power, and the sway held in Malta by largely bogus ideologies such as racist, far-right rhetoric indicates that there isn’t much knowledge going around.
However, organisations such as the Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation give me hope, because we are in desperate need of entities dedicated to promoting investigative journalism as well as education and information centres for the general public.
Our education system fails miserably on this, as well. While children are certainly taught about how to use technology, nobody bothers to teach them how to do so responsibly, such as how to spot a credible source vs a fake one.
What is your opinion on politically-backed media sources? Wouldn’t these be inherently biased?
As stated above, One and Net are a serious problem in this country’s political landscape and hold no rightful place in a society that respects and values objectivity and transparency. While I have nothing personal against some of the talented people who are wasting their time with these entities, I do have issues with media outlets posing as news outlets when in truth they are simply vehicles for government propaganda.
“Our education system fails miserably on this, as well. While children are certainly taught about how to use technology, nobody bothers to teach them how to do so responsibly, such as how to spot a credible source vs a fake one”– Julian Delia: Times of Malta Journalist
What do you think is the biggest threat to journalism now?
The fact that media houses and their revenue streams have been decimated, and that there is no support whatsoever for anyone who does credible, objective journalism. The purposeful lack of state intervention in this regard is part of the strategy to lacerate the news industry further and make it dependent on corporate donors who will attempt to dictate the flow of information, just like Rupert Murdoch in the UK, for example.
In the end, if media houses fall, journalism will be very hard to do.