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MT 27 March 2016

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14 EMMY Bezzina has been described as many things, but to me he rep- resents an unfathomable enigma. Eloquent, undeniably witty and (at times) eccentric to the point of be- ing a downright oddity, he is the natural stuff of comedy. He even looks like he might have been a third Ronnie: roughly halfway be- tween Corbett and Barker. Yet it remains highly debatable whether his insanely popular TV show, 'Il-Parlament Tal-Poplu' – recently investigated by the Broad- casting Authority over its host's col- ourful expletives – is intended to be comical at all. Part of Bezzina's stage presence has always concerted his penchant for the serious. For a man who laughs so much off-screen, his television persona has all the equa- nimity of a bored weatherman. It is, however, the things he says that clearly account for the show's ratings. And his audience ranges from small children (who now re- peat phrases like 'basla immarinata fil-hmieg tal-grieden' on the school playground) to adults of all ages and hues. This naturally raises a ques- tion: how much of his own popular- ity stems from the 'message' (he will describe it as a 'mission throughout this interview), and how much from the vulgarity and toilet humour? Then there's a paradox. Emmy Bezzina's self-avowed 'mission' is (in part) to raise the standard of critical thinking, among a people he scornfully derides as 'goats' and 'sheep'. Yet at the same time, he himself seems to be debasing pub- lic discourse through his own pro- gramme… which ultimately resorts to insults far more often than to per- suasive argument. Which is the real Emmy Bezzina? And would he agree that 'Il-Parla- ment Tal-Poplu' may actually be lowering the standards of public broadcasting instead of raising them? "No," he replies after a split-second pause. "I disagree with you that this is some lowering of standards…" We are seated across the desk in Bezzina's compact legal office in Valletta. Every conceivable surface is impossibly cluttered with box- files and piles of papers… every space on the wall occupied by a framed diploma or photograph. But from the moment I start recording, he immediately lapses into charac- ter. Stately delivery, pauses for ef- fect, suddenly dramatic amplifica- tion… the works. "What we are doing is revolution- ising the concept of a TV talk show. When you experiment and are pre- pared to accept live calls on a live programme... the reality is that our dear people, the Maltese and Gozi- tans, do not really have the knack of what contributing to radio and TV discussion programmes entails. Most of my country-folk do not read, are not up to date on what is occurring, and do not see between the lines. They are literally goats, herded like the sheep of Gianni At- tard in Gozo. Fortunately (or un- fortunately) not many of them are culled..." As with his televised insults, the punch-line is delivered stony-faced. "Aside from that I think we have now reached a stage where we have to think about how to discipline the logic, mental outlook and thinking of my country-folk. This means that those who, because of their obvious inferiority, cannot communicate or form an argument in any form of logic… they have to be psychologi- cally shocked, by harsh words in the vernacular… whereby they realise that, if they are not going to grasp what is really hitting them in terms of revolutionary broadcasting, they have to be chided publicly…" In recent programmes, however, Bezzina seems to have upped the ante: by divulging the home tel- ephone numbers of certain callers at the end of the show…. "Yes, I am now announcing the telephone numbers of people who communicate with an effort to be as low as their pea-sized brain allows them to be. We don't accept calls from private numbers… we only accept those that in fact have an ID number registered on our ID caller. Those who abused in the last two programmes were informed that I would broadcast their numbers at the end of the show. I did this yester- day (Thursday, March 10), and the previous Thursday, March 3." Is he concerned with data protec- tion issues? "There are no data protection is- sues on this matter, because data protection signifies that you are try- ing to protect the identity and de- tails of some particular individual in accordance with the law. When this individual identifies him or herself, the only defence the broadcaster has – in the light of the Broadcast- ing Authority's recommendations, in the aftermath of some comments made earlier – is to identify those who are trying to undermine it, or in any way disrupt it." Either way, the upshot is that 'Il- Parlament Tal-Poplu' is currently the most followed talk-show in Malta. How does its host account for its success? Is it down to the con- frontational impulse that also fuels other shows such as Xarabank? Or do people really tune in to listen to what Emy Bezzina has to say? "Yes, I must say that 'Il-Parlament Tal-Poplu' not only has the largest following in Malta – having sur- passed even Xarabank – but peo- ple in certain strata of our society, such as prominent businesspeople, and also politicians: including the idiotic ones at that place called 'Par- liament'… most of whom are not really suitable to be representatives of the people… I find that not only are a lot of them following, but I am actually being egged on, urged, to keep up the style. They want the people to know that this country is not divided into red and blue… nor yellow and white, representing the Vatican. There is the mind, the culture of the Maltese and Gozitan people that has to be respected. We must now teach these so-called poli- ticians that this country is not to be dictated to by the reds and blues… but by the people who really love their country, who want to be inde- pendent, who want to be able to use their own minds. If we are to have representatives in Parliament, then we want the role of these idiots to really be representative… and not that of a dictatorship. That is what we are getting at the moment, and that is why the programme is be- coming more and more assertive in its revolutionary message. Though with good intentions…" At the same time, Bezzina him- self is also adding fuel to the flame of political confrontation. Is this an intentional irony? Is it a case of, if you can't beat their confrontational politics… join it? "No. The tragedy of this country is… you are younger than I am, but surely you will know, because you are well-read, that there was a time when our house of Parliament had five or even six parties represented in it. Whatever was wrong in that system, we had a spectrum of Mal- tese society. I remind you also that in 1943, when broadcasting in Malta was commencing, we had a Broad- casting Council which imposed that it had to include representatives of various strata of society. Unfortu- nately, when we became independ- ent and the Broadcasting Authority was formed, it became limited to the whims of the two major political parties. These two political sharks – literally, social suckers – have made it a point not only to dominate the country, but also to make it impos- sible for a third party to be repre- sented in Parliament. Il-Parlament tal-Poplu, in a most realistic, but sincere direction, intends to cre- ate a mentality that will undermine this blocked façade that we have of our Parliament being dominated by these two parties; that whatever direction our country takes always has to be dictated by these two par- ties…" Emmy Bezzina here reminds me that this is not the first mental- ity that he had helped to change through his television programmes: especially the Anima and (appro- priately named) Psiko series in the 1980s and 1990s. "I am proud to say that I am one of the pioneers, after almost 50 years of broadcasting, to have helped im- mensely to break social taboos: taboos on issues that now we talk about openly. Not only about gays, but about divorce… abortion… IVF… surrogacy… so many other things, that because of opposition by the Catholic Church, couldn't even be talked about. I must tell you that, because of my views on divorce – even when I am duly qualified, not only in Canon Law, but also Sacred Theology… in spite of all that I was literally summoned by the Arch- bishop of the time. I was told that unless I retracted all I had to say about divorce in public broadcast- ing, I would not be allowed to repre- sent my clients before the local Ec- clesiastical Tribunal. This so-called Christian organisation, the Ecclesi- astical Tribunal, impeded me from doing my job. And my clients were told to their faces that unless they engaged another lawyer, they would not be able to file a case." These issues came to the fore dur- ing the divorce referendum, which resulted in a defeat for the Church's position. Does he feel vindicated? "I have no axes to grind, because I am very satisfied with the way my career has developed. Do not forget that I am now well into my 60s. I have literally seen this coun- try change; not in the sense that Dr Herbert Ganado illustrates in his series of books, Rajt Malta Tinbidel. But I have seen Malta undergo a complete, thorough upheaval in every single facet of life…" He also remembers a time when his faith in the political system was higher. "I was myself a member of the Malta Labour Party, of course, for a very short time… until I realised that politics in Malta meant noth- ing except backstabbing within the circles of the party. At the national level, it was: either you had horses to run the race for you, or else you were literally doped to be left be- hind. So I said, I must find the right formula; and fortunately for me, I did… in persons such as Joe Grima. We all have our defects, but Joe Grima ¬– and of course Joe Baldac- chino of Smash – have given me all liberty to manage this ideology of mine in the way that suits me best. "This is not to say that these two Interview By Raphael Vassallo maltatoday, SUNDAY, 27 MARCH 2016 Ministers are no gods; but human beings, who shit and piss just like any other human being. To these people we must say: no sir, you are the 'honourable'. We are the honourable people, and we will dictate to you how you will run the country as we wish HONOURABLE And I must tell you, there has been a lot of pressure, not just on me, but also the owners of the station, to try and control my output on the programmes PRESSURE Mission Im-'peas'-able

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