The ruling of the Broadcasting Authority against the radio station owned by the Catholic Church shows just how inadequate our understanding of the basic workings of democracy is.
The decision to fine RTK103 after its frontline host Andrew Azzopardi declared to the Broadcasting Authority’s CEO face he would never invite Norman Lowell to his show is not merely stupid and uncivilised, though it is both those things. It is an act of sabotage perpetrated by a constitutional body against the constitution itself.
The legacy of our constitution differs from the origin stories of the constitutions of our continental neighbours. The history and the context in which ours was written is different. Unlike the continentals, we did not write our constitution to turn away from the horrors of World War II.
Our basic law is structured with democracy written in as an assumption, a custom that needs no definition.
We declare we would be a democracy because implicitly we’re presumed to know what that means, a matter settled in England by the Magna Carta, the decapitation of Charles I and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. We don’t remember any of that stuff but the convulsions of the history of another country are supposed to be written in our sense of restraint and general good behaviour.
The constitutions of continental countries are a bit more sanguine about people’s supposedly innate sense of decency. They take the time to define democracy, to build into the basic rule book systems that signal its erosion ahead of time. They build a fence around democracy, distinguishing it by what it is not, because alternatives to it exist and the survival of democracy is a constant battle against those alternatives.
A democratic constitution cannot be ambivalent about democracy. It must be militant in its defence because the alternatives exist to undermine it and eventually subsume it.
A democratic constitution must be anti-fascist.
Lowell and his supporters are fascist. They’re not alone in this country to be innately racist and bubbling with prejudice and hatred, though they are unique in couching their venom in the long discredited pseudo-science of biological racial hierarchies. They have argued for the mass exile of people they describe as not being “white”. They have argued for the subversion of the democratic system to replace it with an oligarchy run by what they describe as the “elite”, themselves.
They have apologised for Adolf Hitler and, in Lowell’s case, publicly glorified him and, in what may momentarily appear as comical clowning, he aped him meaning to impersonate him or, as he might call it, reincarnate him.
The name Imperium Europa derives from a fantasy where ‘non-whites’ are somehow eliminated from the continent, leaving the rest of us – am I white, incidentally? – live in subjugation to a quarter of a million ‘knights’ that fit the identikit written by Lowell and are given the authority to run our empire for us.
There’s little danger of Lowell becoming prime minister or dictator, though every vote he acquires is chilling in and of itself. The issue is not that a little publicity on a radio station talk show risks leading the way to a far-right takeover. Though the mainstreaming of extremist politics in Hungary and Poland and, to a lesser but very significant extent, in France, Italy, Austria, Czechia and even Germany, is a scary trend.
The BA fine represents a growing legitimisation of extremist views- Manuel Delia
The issue I raise here is the legitimisation of opinion and political action that uses the rights and openness of the democratic system for the purpose of subverting it. There should be a Broadcasting Authority that is vigilant against the infiltration of anti-democratic politics into the broadcast media. It used to do that with inconsistent effectiveness in the past.
Consider when the BA fined a TV station for giving Lowell a platform to argue that children born with disabilities should be murdered. There, the BA made the eminent distinction that the democratic right to free expression cannot be allowed to be used by a fascist to threaten the democratic right to life.
Lowell has a right to the free expression of his opinions. But that right stops at the point where he will use it to threaten the rights of others. Promoting pseudo-scientific falsehoods to scapegoat minorities, spouting paranoid inanities about the supposed victim status of ‘white people’ and arguing for the violent and forceful exile or murder of people merely for belonging to groups or categories he creates in his febrile rhetoric does not have a legitimate space in public discourse in a democracy.
Azzopardi would be wrong to give Lowell’s notions a platform. He is right not to.
When Lowell started his tirades in the early 1980s, most people felt they could be amused by his grotesque presence. But he is right to credit himself as a transformative force for our politics. People who are less flamboyant than him, and, therefore, far more insidious, have made it to mainstream politics and some of his ideas are far closer to the way the country is governed than he will ever be.
Consider Neville Gafà, who uses his social media these days to disseminate pro-Putin and anti-Europe propaganda. For years, he ran Malta’s racialist policies on migration. Consider Alex Dalli, whose philosophy of fear and iron discipline ran our civil prisons like a gulag and is now our man in Libya.
Consider Simon Mercieca, whose blog couches extreme-right rhetoric by kidnapping Christianity, hollowing it out and making it a tool for his own set of prejudices.
And consider the growing trend of a certain kind of sharp-suited politician, invariably male, that is growing in the ranks across the conventional political divide. They would have looked odd and a bit loony 20 years ago. But they are creeping, or, rather, goose stepping, on our politics, looking hard, talking hard and, when the opportunity is there, acting hard.
The BA’s fining of RTK103 signals far worse than the stupidity of those who decided to issue it. It represents the growing legitimisation of extremist views and a licence, issued by the State itself, to people who hate it and seek to replace it with a madness which would tolerate the views of nobody by theirs.