News coverage is not about ‘bothsidism’, described by Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman as “the almost pathological determination to portray politicians and their programmes as being equally good or equally bad, no matter how ludicrous that pretence becomes”.
This implies that one should not pathetically try to give equal coverage to persons or issues. Professional journalistic criteria do not call for equal coverage.
It should be evident, for example, that the Prime Minister’s engagements in Malta and overseas generate more news stories than the more limited activities of the leader of the Opposition. This is consequently reflected in our coverage.
During 2018 Prime Minister Joseph Muscat featured in 1,003 reports on Newsbook.com.mt while Adrian Delia, leader of the Nationalist Party, featured in 542 reports. If one were to add the coverage of the respective deputy leaders to that of the leaders of the two parties the gap widens: 1,449 reports for the Labour Party versus 620 reports for PN.
Most of these mentions are straight reports of newsworthy activities organised by the politicians concerned. Others are based on criticism levied by adversaries. The PL lambasts Delia and vice versa. One should dig deeper. We do not artificially balance these ‘negative’ mentions but report fairly, independently of who would be favoured at the end. Our digging shows that the result lies in favour of the Prime Minister.
Truth be told we do give (as should be) news about the Church more prominence than others. Pope Francis featured in 1,056 reports, Archbishop Charles Scicluna in 501 reports, Bishop Mario Grech in 226 and Bishop Joseph Galea Curmi in 76 reports.
As the bishops feature less than the Prime Minister, it is understood and greatly appreciated that out of filial devotion to the Archbishop a priest could call Newsbook/RTK journalists ‘obscene’ for not reporting the Archbishop as often as the Prime Minister is reported. However, professional journalistic norms dictate otherwise.
The present, post-truth, populist culture is fuelled by a sense of decay of democratic institutions
There is, however, no rational justification for Labour trolls to quote party sympathisers who call the Church media obscene for allegedly discriminating against the Labour Party; something that is evidently not true (see for example Eddie Privitera’s letter to this newspaper on February 12).
This malicious strategy was used in full force during the 1990s when RTK was the second largest radio station in Malta.
It has been resurrected these last couple of years because the reform of the Church media is reaping fruit and attracting audiences. The same trolls and kindred fellow travellers are on an organised attempt to delegitimise the Archbishop so much so that he recently said that some people are paid to attack him continuously.
Five hard facts give the lie to the detractors of the Church media.
In every summons before the Broadcasting Authority, RTK always won. Save once in 2017 when it was found guilty of broadcasting pro-Labour government material.
Six or seven libel cases were instituted by Church media personnel against the Labour media because of their hateful campaign against the Church media.
All were won and generally those summoned did not even try to defend their case by presenting supporting facts, understandably so as there were none to present.
A big-data project researching all social communication during the 2017 election found Newsbook to contain the most balanced content and commentary when compared to all other news media reports.
Since the start of the reform of the Church media in January 2017, Newsbook audiences, page views and sessions multiply exponentially each month.
A qualitative study held late last year shows that RTK is perceived as the most balanced radio station in Malta. This confirms a statement in one of the annual reports of the Broadcasting Authority published in the mid-1990s when the attack against RTK by people worried of its growth was gathering ground.
The detractors of the Church media ignore these hard facts and continue to disseminate wild statements in the belief that readers will not discern and determine whether there’s any truth to their story, or otherwise.
The same irresponsible statements then get repurposed for the digital world, where source, or fact, is irrelevant. The brazen disregard for the truth is perpetuated through clicks, likes and shares.
The present, post-truth, populist culture is fuelled by a sense of decay of democratic institutions, the trivialisation of news value and the banalisation of public discourse.
The Church media will not be part of this culture or succumb to these attacks.
The title of this piece reproduces the New York Times’ slogan. We share the same belief as we prefer to keep on producing news which is fair, accurate and trustworthy.
Fr Joe Borg is chairman of the editorial board of Beacon Media Group comprising Newsbook.com.mt and RTK.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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