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MaltaToday 31 March 2021 MIDWEEK

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10 maltatoday | WEDNESDAY • 31 MARCH 2021 OPINION I have to admit, it's been amusing to watch all the horrified reactions to that 'Times of Mafia' placard this week. Or at least… it would have been, if it wasn't also so poign- antly ironic. For instance: in view of the clear resem- blance to their own (almost identical) style of billboard campaigns, Repubblika imme- diately dissociated itself from this 'obscene act': "We didn't do this. When we call out the mafia we apply the term to the criminals, not their victims. It's truly vile of people who continue to deny that Keith Schem- bri is a tentacle in the mafia that still grips our government, to be now accusing one of Keith Schembri's victims…" Hmm. Ok, let's get the obvious out of the way first. Is Repubblika really so very cer- tain that it has only ever applied the term 'mafia' to criminals? Because as I recall, back in November 2019, one of its prom- inent members publicly accused me of be- ing 'part of the conspiracy to murder Daph- ne Caruana Galizia'. This is a direct quote from that blogpost: "This is how he [me] helps the mafia get away with its crimes, thereby being part of it." I don't, however, recall Repubblika pub- licly dissociating itself from Manuel Delia's article, at the time… still less, describing it as 'vile' and 'obscene'. So would anyone at that organisation care to explain the pre- cise difference between that blog-post… and a placard publicly accusing a newspa- per of being part of exactly the same crimi- nal organisation? Actually wait, don't bother: Manuel Delia will soon enough have the opportunity to do so in person, at the next sitting of the libel case I filed against him well over a year ago (provided, of course, that he actually shows up this time). Right: that's all I'll comment about my own case, for now… and if I brought it up at all, it is only because: a) the double-stand- ards are simply too overwhelming not to comment upon (there is a limit to how hard you can bite your own tongue, you know…), and; b) it's not as though this sort of treatment has been reserved exclusively for little me. No indeed: when a certain vociferous Facebook commentator (legitimately) questioned the prosecution's tactics in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder trial – asking why all the emphasis was being placed on allegations concerning Chris Cardona, and hardly any on those involving Keith Schembri – he was publicly accused (you'll never guess by whom) of being part of a conspiracy to 'acquit Yorgen Fenech'. Similar accusations were also levelled at University lecturer Simon Mercieca: for the grave crime of publicly airing his own (admittedly provocative) opinions about the same murder. At which point, a remarkably consistent pattern swims into view. It seems that any- one who even remotely disagrees with one particular narrative concerning this mur- der, and all the corruption that went on in the background – oddly enough, the same narrative espoused by Repubblika, among others – is automatically labelled 'part of the mafia'. And yes, fair enough: in some cases, I suppose that's probably true. For there is, undeniably, a 'mafia' that is eating away at Malta's foundations like a canker, even as we speak… and plenty of evidence is now emerging to expose exactly who is/was in- volved in it, and to what degree. But that only heightens the injustice, when the same accusation is unfairly lev- elled at others. It is a case of associating the target with some of the most heinous, reprehensible, and politically-destabilising crimes ever committed in this country… Hence, I suppose, the amusing part: in all honesty, you can't not laugh at this sudden display of righteous indignation… coming from a lobby group that has been using precisely the same tactics itself, against all sorts of undeserving targets, for years. Nor can you fail to observe that, for some reason, they only ever seem to realise just how 'vile' and 'obscene' such tactics are… when they are used against themselves, or 'one of their own'. Ah… but used by whom, exactly? For some reason, Repubblika seems utterly convinced that the perpetrators are 'people who continue to deny that Keith Schembri is a tentacle in the mafia that still grips our government'. But again: what makes them so very certain about that? Technically, we don't know who affixed that placard to the railings of The Times building in Mriehel. It could very well have been an attempt to 'frame' that particular NGO, yes… but let's face it: it could just as easily have been the handiwork of a dis- gruntled former Allied Newspapers em- ployee. After all, a lot of people lost their job at Progress Press as a direct result of that swindle. And in any case: a lot of people might bear a grudge against The Times for all sorts of other reasons (just as a lot of people hate, and publicly criticise, Mal- taToday, The Malta Independent, Shift News, Manuel Delia's blog, and all other parts of the media landscape. It more or less comes with the territory). It is also an open secret that many peo- ple out there do, in fact, suspect that The Times may have been complicit – direct- ly, or otherwise – in Keith and Co.'s shady dealings. I have now lost count of the online comments I've seen, to the effect that those dealings somehow influenced The Times' editorial policy… causing a traditionally 'pro-Nationalist' newspaper to shift its al- legiance towards Labour, in the run-up to the 2013 elections (ironically enough, one of the most vocal proponents of this theo- ry happens to be that very same Facebook commentator I alluded to, above). And these people certainly don't 'deny that Keith Schembri is a tentacle in the ma- fia that still grips our government'. Quite the contrary: they're at the very forefront of all those who've been calling for Schembri's (and Mizzi's, and Muscat's, etc.) head on a plate for years. So whether or not they put up that plac- ard themselves – or even if it was, in fact, a decoy to implicate others – they would still agree with the overall sentiment. For the same reason, I might add, that NGOs like Repubbika so liberally dish out the 'mafia' label to anyone they don't particularly like. That 'Times of Mafia' slogan chimes in with a widely-held public perception, too; and in this case, the perceived 'betrayal' of that newspaper – that editorial switch, which some suspect was The Times' way of 'facilitating' Keith Schembri's corrup- tion – caused some people to join the dots, and forge a direct link between the Kasco deal, and the newspaper's apparent politi- cal volte-face. For what it's worth, however: I don't share that view myself at all. Partly because I tend to agree with former Sunday Times editor Steve Mallia: who pointed out the differ- ence between the editorial and adminis- trative arms of any newspaper – rightly observing that the biases of one, are not automatically reflected in the biases of the other. (Note: I have never worked for The Times myself, but I can attest to that in- sofar as it applies to both The Malta Inde- pendent and MaltaToday.) But partly also because… … well, let's put it this way. The theory it- self hinges on the notion that The Times (or any other newspaper) could only real- istically have changed its editorial policy, back in 2013, if it was somehow 'corrupted' into doing so by a criminal, political clique. This in turn suggests that there were no other plausible reasons to account for this presumed policy-change: as though the very idea of 'supporting Labour', at the time, was somehow 'inconceivable' or 'un- justifiable'… And yet, we all remember what the lie of the land actually was, before that particu- lar election (and, more significantly, before the five years of crime-ridden scandal that utterly demolished Joseph Muscat's repu- tation ever since). Admittedly, it does feel like a long time ago today: but back then, it is futile to deny that Lawrence Gonzi's Nationalist govern- ment would have probably lost an election even to an empty chair; let alone, to an or- ganised, energised political machine whose leader – whatever his other flaws – was evi- dently so appealing to an electorate hungry for change. No matter how much of that perception is now destroyed by hindsight… well, hind- sight was a luxury that nobody – not even The Times – had in 2013. And, bizarre though this may sound today: it would have actually have been more suspicious the other way round: i.e., had The Times NOT correctly read the signs of the (ahem) times; and conceded that – after 25 years of governance, by a party that had by then clearly lost its steam – it was finally ripe for that newspaper to sever its Nationalist apron-strings, and embrace the wind of change. To me – and, it must be said, by any lo- cal or international media standard – that is in itself more than enough justification for any newspaper to shift its (real or per- ceived) political allegiances; and please note that I didn't even mention the tee- nie-weenie detail that a major corruption scandal – funnily enough, also concerning the energy sector – happened to erupt just a few months before the election… But in a climate where the 'mafia' slur now rolls so very easily off the tongue – and whose fault is that, I wonder? – it is perhaps inevitable that even the most normal, nat- ural explanations are no longer enough to dispel suspicions of criminal collusion, one way or another. And it's hardly fair, is it? Still less, on the journalists employed by that newspaper: some of whom have worked so hard, to ex- pose so much of what we now know about Malta's real criminal underworld… So I'll conclude by highlighting about the only part of that Repubblika statement I ac- tually agree with: yes, that placard was in- deed 'truly vile' and 'obscene'… and – from one target of the same tactic, to another – the editorial staff of The Times have my full solidarity. (Whatever that's worth, in practice…) 'Mafia' doesn't mean 'anyone you don't like' Raphael Vassallo

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