Xarabank featured the man who murdered Caricia Sammut’s mother nine years ago. The slaying of Christine Sammut was the infinitely sad end to a saga of stalking and obsession that traumatised her and her family – especially Caricia, who was still a young girl when her mother was so cruelly taken from her.

The murder jettisoned her into a world of ongoing legal battles and the ever-looming shadow of a murderer’s influence on her life. The happy memories of her mother may be tarnished by the mode of her passing.

You would think that society as a whole, and Malta’s prime television programme, would appreciate the pain and suffering that the relatives of victims of crime suffer, and would try to avoid making it worse. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Christine Sammut’s killer was given a platform to vent about the shortcomings of the prison system on prime-time television.

In an attempt to justify this dubious choice, Xarabank presenter Peppi Azzopardi inevitably referred to the rights of prisoners to be able to express themselves about their living conditions. And he promised another edition of the programme dedicated to “victims”.

It is adding insult to injury to see the event that inflicted such a horrible effect on one’s life being commoditised for viewership or audience share or simply for the sake of creating controversy

I cannot imagine that “victims” are overwhelmed with the magnanimity of this offer – effectively having to support Peppi’s programme/exhibition in order to counter why they find it so hurtful to see their relative’s killers featured so prominently.

It is clear that there is no legal bar or direct objection that can be made with regard to these programmes because the producers will counter with self-righteous cries about freedom of expression and a providing a forum for the exchange of opinions. Yet, that same freedom entitles viewers to voice their distaste at programmes such as the Xarabank edition in question.

The relatives of the victims of crime suffer a secondary form of victimisation. Their world is turned upside down. They have to come to terms with the aftermath of cruelty intentionally perpetrated on their loved ones. They are catapulted into the media spotlight and their privacy is invaded.

They may also have to realise that the wheels of justice grind slowly – or not at all – and that the traumatic act that has blighted their life is not the foremost or only priority of the investigative and judicial system.

The combination of these factors has a deep impact on the relatives of the victims of violent crime as they also have to find a way of making sense of a world which is arbitrary and unfair.

It is adding insult to injury to see the event that inflicted such a horrible effect on one’s life being commoditised for viewership or audience share or simply for the sake of creating controversy. Because essentially that is what this boils down to – cultivating controversy – the Xarabank modus operandi.

Had the sole objective of the programme been the highlighting of the (admittedly dismal) prison conditions, this could have been done in a number of other ways that would have avoided causing the relatives of the victims of crime to relive their pain. Instead the programme was conducted in an insensitive manner with the result that viewership figures trumped victims’ feelings.

drcbonello@gmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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