Owen Bonnici had one job: to keep Norma Saliba onside. When she tumbled out of the national TV’s newsroom, whisperers compared the potential trouble her unhappiness could bring about with the output of one Mark Camilleri, erstwhile head of a State institution, who enterprisingly used his inside knowledge of Labour’s mess in government for his new autonomous career path.

Saliba did not have to threaten anyone with sweet revenge for losing the best-paid job in journalism in this country. Time bombs do not issue warnings that, unless fed, they would explode. The cartoonish tick tock that comes with bombs just being there is enough to get their handlers into a sweat.

The national broadcaster under Saliba has spent the last several years covering up for the government. It glossed over their worst crimes and misdemeanours, rubbing from the record sides of the story that would have given nuance to official propaganda.

State TV’s partiality and pro-Labour bias was so systemic that its victims were mostly too exhausted to complain. On the few occasions that the Broadcasting Authority was asked to rectify the most outrageous offences, the regulator pitifully agreed but proved unable to right wrongs in any meaningful way.

When then minister Konrad Mizzi could no longer face the press without faltering at questions that were increasingly impossible to answer, he could still rely on TVM and ONE TV to gently caress him with their microphones, giving free reign to his fantasy that he was still the best minister ever.

When tens of thousands marched in the streets to bring down Joseph Muscat’s government, TVM looked up to the sky, whistling, hands in pockets, pretending to admire the Milky Way. Until Muscat’s government came down and TVM reported the event like it was rain from an unclouded sky. Anyone relying exclusively on TVM for their news must have thought Muscat had something rotten for breakfast the day he spontaneously “decided” to quit.

The fact is that covering up for Labour from the strategic position of gatekeeper of the near-official version of the news is not an act of a fan girl, perhaps excessively enthusiastic about the political party she supports. Switching your duty of service as a journalist, paid and funded by the public, to provide audiences with the most honest, critical, well-researched and impartial view possible with Newspeak from the Ministry of Truth is nothing short of complicity with the regime.  Saliba was complicit with the government. She was part of it.

Don’t worry, Labour tells them. Owen Bonnici will take care of you too. The public will pay

She was one of the many Squealers, to stretch the Orwellian references, working for the Napoleon who happened to sit at the top desk in Castille.

Imagine the explosion a time bomb like that could cause. Imagine what she could say or do if Saliba became unhappy, if she felt unloved, if she decided she wasn’t being given the gratitude and the reward she felt were hers by right for the services she rendered to Labour.

Bonnici, the bumbling Fredo Corleone of this outfit, was sent to Havana to show Saliba a good time. He fancies himself a legal genius, someone who could write laws that are smart enough to diffuse political time bombs.

His colleagues, however, have a more accurate assessment of the affable and the soft-spoken anthropomorphic bichon frisé.

Do you need to rub away public knowledge of past convictions of cronies? Bonnici will write a law to do that. Do you need to force the attorney general to surrender an inquiry into the conduct of a suspect when the suspect happens to be Muscat? Bonnici will abuse his hat as justice minister to act on behalf of his friend and ‘client’. Do you need to censor a protest calling for justice for a journalist who has been killed on the line? Bonnici will find a law that says he has the duty to do just that.

Do you need to prevent an angry Saliba from turning rogue? The government’s answer is not unlike their solution to all the redundant ONE TV Labour Party employees who were gifted pointless government positions. In  Saliba’s case, Bonnici set up an entirely new government organisation, writing a law that birthed its function into existence, and awarded  Saliba its headship before anyone had even worked out what she’s going to do, let alone if she’s the best fit for the job.

Naturally – because this is Bonnici we’re talking about – the whole thing is an execrable mess. It would be bad enough if Bonnici was simply found to be corrupt and guilty merely of using public resources to secure entirely private (not personal) ends. But he is a congenital idiot.

The legal notice, setting up the organisation that Saliba was made boss of when the notion was still a twinkle in Bonnici’s eye refers to the wrong enabling law. If it had referred to the right law, it would have found that the original law does not give the minister anything like the authority he thinks he has to set up a new organisation from scratch.

And, in any case, it imposes on him the legal obligation to consult another pre-existing entity, which he didn’t because the person who runs the pre-existing entity told newspapers he first heard of the legal notice when the newspapers told him about it.

Saliba’s new job is, at best, invalid, more likely entirely unlawful.

One question to ask right now is what is Saliba doing? How is she filling her days? Has she reported for duty? Has she started meetings? Has she started to earn her keep? When is her first paycheck out? What are we getting for paying her hush money?

The other question to ask is what do TVM journalists think about this mess? Do they imagine that if they loyally serve the propagandistic interests of the Labour Party like dear old Norma did, laws would be written when the time came to fund their removal from TVM?

Don’t worry, Labour tells them. Bonnici will take care of you too. The public will pay.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us