One of the earliest aspects of the environment typical of our (my parents’ actually) home in the early 1960s in Floriana includes the discretely proud image of my late father as a regular reader of the Times of Malta.
Every morning was bound to start with a look at the pages of ‘It-Times’, as the name of the paper was called for short. It was a must both to buy the newspaper and to show that such a custom was also a conscious act of loyalty and gratitude towards the Empire.
As in the case of so many other people of those colourful years, my father’s consistency must have been meant to confirm his staunch belief that the paper was above direct partisan allegiance. One could consequently carry the day’s newspaper without seeming to be provocative.
One could enter a restaurant, or a band club, or anywhere else carrying that paper without risking instinctive reactions from people belonging to the other side of the fence. There were only two, the ‘I’ and the ‘other’. ‘Aħna’ and ‘huma’.
It all meant that a paper of such a national stature could guarantee impartiality and could therefore guarantee information reasonably above prejudice which was, as it still is, characteristic of all other newspapers.
Many, like my father, believed they could go to church, or enter a bar or have as friends people who did not bother to manifest this way, the right way, their allegiance to other political institutions. Is it possible to identify the birth, at least mentally, of a third political group in such a mental state of mind?
Such a status enjoyed by the Times of Malta was and still is no mean achievement. Malta can be systematically described and then analysed if defined in terms of the fundamental duality pervading it in all its sectors. Readers of such a unique newspaper could both maintain their stand as non-partisan or at least moderate citizens, and declare themselves independent. As the conflict between Michael Gonzi and Dom Mintoff assumed more terrifying proportions, the question of loyalty towards prelates and politicians became more distinct in what it really was: a question of power. Such an aspect in the whole complex conflict must have been decisive in further defining voters in terms of their religious and partisan allegiance.
The international character of the Times of Malta, a paper which regularly gave tangible proof of its being naturally open to the challenges of post-modernism, as opposed to the pluralistic approach of European states, must have significantly contributed toward the development of such an open-minded approach. There must have been strong points of contact between Labour and the Times of Malta, at least due to its commitment towards foreign residents and whoever now spoke of pluralism.
But what did this new term mean? Tradition must have been an equally difficult term to understand, explain, and accept. As a rule, scholarly articles delving into the moral problems which European membership was bound to impose on traditional Malta, appeared in the Times of Malta, and were further developed there. It is paradoxical that such controversial issues throughout this turbulent period were rarely taken into consideration in the pro-Labour press, whereas the Nationalist stand was clear enough as not to warrant such popular diffusion of information. A special, third compromising role seems to have been played by the Times of Malta.
The Times of Malta must have truly been worthy of being considered as Malta’s major international newspaper, as it truly voiced the views of all inhabitants. On the other hand, it was a known fact that Malta’s main political leaders, including Eddie Fenech Adami and even Dom Mintoff himself, gave weight to stands taken by the paper. At times he even chose a motive from its editorials to depart in a subsequent speech towards a conclusion only reached by himself. A whole story still to be written…
Oliver Friggieri is a novelist, poet, literary critic and philosopher.
This article first appeared in a commemorative supplement marking 85 years of Times of Malta. Contributions will be published online every day between August 11 and August 20. Read other contributions.
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