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MT 18 September 2016

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Opinion 21 maltatoday, SUNDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2016 I t seems that lying in politics is not what it used to be any more. Politicians have always lied but now they seem to be abandoning any vestige of truth completely. At least that is what the Donald Trump campaign in the U.S. is revealing. A recent cover story in 'The Economist' insists that the manner in which politicians are now lying, and the havoc they may cause by doing so, reveals a worrying trend. It describes this phenomenon as 'post-truth politics' – a reliance on assertions that 'feel true' but have no basis in fact. Incidentally, this term was first used by Davis Roberts, a blogger on an environmental website. This phenomenon has been abetted by the evolution of social media, which focuses on what people are feeling – hence what people think is the truth – rather than helping to establish what the truth is. 'The Economist' put it this way: 'Post- truth politics is more than just an invention of whingeing elites who have been outflanked. The term picks out the heart of what is new: that truth is not falsified, or contested, but of secondary importance.' Once, the purpose of political lying was to create a false view of the world. The lies of men like Mr. Trump do not work like that. They are not intended to convince the elites, whom their target voters neither trust nor like, but to reinforce prejudices. Social media plays an important part in this phenomenon. Thanks to it, lies, rumour and gossip spread like wildfires. Scare stories reinforced by prejudices are then believed all the more easily, becoming easy fodder for politicians. Trump, for instance, insists that the rate of crime in the US has never been as high. And people believe him because this statement reinforces their prejudices. However, statistics show this to be an outright lie – the rate of crime has never been lower. This phenomenon is not limited to Trump, however. It is becoming global. Look at how Britons were lured to vote for Brexit, for example, by a campaign based on blatant misinformation including the false claim – presented as 'fact' – that EU membership was costing them £350 million-a-week, which could otherwise be diverted to the NHS. In Poland, the right-wing ruling party 'Law and Justice', pushes the idea that post-communist politicians are in cahoots with foreign communists to push Poland back to the old Communist days. They even play on the conspiracy theory that Russians assassinated the Polish president, who died in a plane crash. In Turkey, the recent attempted coup has given rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories that unwittingly dupe the public to be more receptive to the exaggertaed reaction and outright lies relayed by government spokesmen. In short, truth is becoming irrelevant and people believe what they want to believe. And politicians in Malta are playing the same game. For example, the perception that the Nationalist Party (PN) does not care a hoot about the so-called south of Malta is not borne out by the historical facts. But nevertheless Prime Minister Joseph Muscat plays this up whenever opposition leader Simon Busuttil speaks about developments in the area. Busuttil's recent visit to Palumbo shipyards and his genuine concern about the Freeport not being allowed to develop further have also been 'translated' by Labour into how Busuttil doesn't care about the inconveniences that the residents of these areas have to endure as a result of these successful commercial enterprises. This is a good example of a perceived non-truth being reinforced as a truth. On the other hand, the PN plays on the perception that whatever the Muscat adminsitration does is tainted with corruption. Corruption is undoubtedly evident in a number of cases but this is then 'translated' to a receptive audience as being the only reason that drives Muscat on and the only reason why all decsions are made. I think that the implication that the demerger of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) and the recent setting up of a Lands Authority are part of the current adminsitration's corruption 'plot' is rubbish. But such an implication finds fertile ground when there is a nurtured popular perception that whatever Muscat does is motivated by corruption. And in both cases, one can easily see the impact that social media has made to reinforce these prejudices. It does seem that today truth has no place in the politcal game. Instead, it has been taken over by the impressions, perceptions and conspiracy theories that people are being bombarded with. When politicians realise what the people want to believe, they have a field day and truth becomes irrelevant. Manoel Island saga – sympathy for the protesters This week the popular forced entry into the Manoel Island area where the MIDI consortium had closed everything up made the news. I sympathise with the protestors. The problem with the foreshore of Manoel Island not being available to the public – as it should be – stems from the way the MIDI consortium, awarded the Tigné/Manoel Island development, has proceeded with carrying out their contractual obligations. They decided to proceed with the development (some say over-development) of Tigné, while leaving Manoel Island on the back burner to be developed some day in the far away future. That was in the interest of cash flow, of course! To be fair, one has to mention that they restored the fort in Manoel Island beautifully – a fine job indeed, which still cannot be enjoyed by anyone however, whether Maltese citizens or tourists. Meanwhile they dragged their feet on developing the rest of Manoel Island. So the news that they tried to sell the development potential of Manoel Island to third parties came as no surprise to me. As I said, it is cash flow that dictates how the consortium works. But I do not blame the protestors who gate-crashed into the MIDI area to be able to swim. The foreshore, after all, was to remain in the public domain. Why did MIDI close the area up for so many years? Was it simply because it would have been susceptible to vandalism and drug abuse otherwise? On the other hand, leaving the area accessible and guarding it until the development was carried out would have created a cash flow problem... Even so, MIDI should seek some sort of agreement with the Gzira Local Council. In a world of post-truth politics Michael Falzon Inga Boissevain's novel at all leading book shops @ €8.99 As truth becomes irrelevant and people believe what they want to believe, the politicians – even here – are having a field day with it

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