When I was little, I equated the word ‘news’ with Anna Bonanno. To this day, if I close my eyes, I can still see her Farrah Fawcett hairstyle, parted down the middle, with wispy bangs and curled side layers, seemingly frozen in place.
She was a newscaster on Xandir Malta, the public broadcasting channel, and I’d catch glimpses of her before we were allowed to press the television button (no remote) and switch to Italia Uno to watch Kiss me Licia.
There was no Super One, Net TV, Smash or Favourite. Xandir Malta was there on its own. By the early 1980s, the government not only controlled the national TV but was editorially responsible for its news content, and it was more or less a mouthpiece of Dom Mintoff’s government; as were the only two public broadcasting radio stations: Radju Malta 1 and Radju Malta 2.
The internet still had to be invented, as were home computers and mobile phones. So the only way to get news was Bonanno in the evening and newspapers in the morning; the rest you had to figure out by yourself.
I am very conscious that I sound ancient writing all this but I promise I’m only talking about three decades ago (and some, ahem, few grey hairs collected along the way).
As I am from Paola, and because in the 1980s you would be inviting trouble if you lived in the Fourth District and you dared to buy a non-Mintoff approved newspaper, the newsagent would roll up the Nazzjon in The Times before handing it to my father with a knowing nod.
It took me till 1987 to realise that the paper was called Nazzjon and not In-Tagħna. Mintoff had, at the time, for some weird, spiteful reason of his, banned the word ‘Malta’ and its synonyms from titles.
All this accounted for the fact that I didn’t really realise what proper news was until the Gulf War, CNN and cable TV.
Today we even consider narcissist gas lighters as brilliant leaders, simply because our television channels tell us so- Kristina Chetcuti
I suppose it was to get the country out of this news vacuum that, in 1992, the then PN in government introduced the liberalisation of the media. This effectively gave all and sundry the chance to open a radio or television station.
The truth is that although for a while it rained media channels, only the two main political parties could sustain the prohibitive cost in the long term.
It was wildly believed then, that party media would cancel each other out. They didn’t. What ensued instead was a nationwide tug of brainwashing – which we’re still at.
Television station newsrooms owned by political parties are, by their very nature, a PR machine for the party. They promote the partial and the partisan. Of course, there have been some brilliant managers and some great journalists along the years, but these eventually moved on to better career prospects.
Moreover, compared to One’s megaphone in terms of reach, Net TV’s is but a squeak. Lies, hate speech and worse, dehumanisation of opponent figures – a speciality of One – are never even contested by the Broadcasting Authority.
Today we are faced with another stark truth: both party media seem to be parroting more or less the same Labour agenda, and the country seems to be inching ever closer to a one-party state.
The even sadder truth is that we still have a public broadcasting channel, TVM, which is the mouthpiece of Castille. No political party in government has ever had the guts to make a proper restructuring of PBS to make its editorial content independent of spin.
Consequently, zapping through Maltese television channels has become like that horrid torture method in which cold water is slowly dripped onto your scalp for a prolonged period of time until it drives you insane.
Our television stations – still more popular in Malta than social media – have enforced and entrenched the partisan fabric of our islander society. Everything comes in two: two camps, two options, two festas, two football teams, two colours, two political parties. When people dare to challenge the traditional status quo, the rest of society turns against them, aghast.
Just look at all the flak Repubblika is getting, simply for always criticising that which is wrong, irrelevant of the party.
For the sake of the sanity of this island’s inhabitants, and for the sake of a healthy democracy, we need to urgently dismantle this sickening structure of partisanship. How?
Firstly, by killing all party media. It is pure poison. It’s the perfect breeding ground for mass indoctrination, preventing people from thinking for themselves. Today we even consider narcissist gas lighters as brilliant leaders, simply because our television channels tell us so.
As islanders, we already have that predisposition of revelling in being spoon-fed. We’re lazy thinkers. We love complaining but not questioning. Even our idioms are ubiquitous on the matter: “Ħeq, dak ħareġ il-kunvent”, and our television stations embody all that.
Secondly, we must invest more in culture. Not Jason’s inane infiorita kind of culture. In the education kind. We must take our children to art exhibitions, theatre productions, musical events and museums, and each time we must stop, discuss, ponder and criticise.
Culture is what nurtures thinking and criticism – and that is what makes us better citizens living in a better country, with a better media spirit than the 1980s.