It is a fact that many Maltese follow the news very closely. Whether through television, radio, the printed media or news websites, the daily news is an everyday feature of the lives of most Maltese citizens.

As a nation we have been blessed with some excellent journalists who, through thick and thin, have always made sure that the latest news is made available to all citizens in the shortest time possible.

The best example is, of course, the late Mabel Strickland, who in the dark days of World War II, went on publishing this newspaper despite the heavy tonnage of enemy bombs falling upon the Maltese islands.

One investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, even gave her life for the cause. One may totally disagree with what she wrote, as in my case, but this does not detract from her gifted investigative skills which were second to none.

Given this Maltese tradition of quality journalism, it is, therefore, worthwhile discussing certain aspects of news reporting today which, in my opinion, raise important questions. What is of news value? What should be reported and what should not be reported?”

Let me start by saying that today we are sometimes being regaled with so-called "news" which is, in reality, no news at all.

A short while ago, I was amazed to note a news item about such a trivial and unimportant matter that I remarked to myself that some news editors must really be hard-pressed for material to publish if this is the quality of "news" they can provide.  I read that a politician went to watch a football match in England with some of his friends. The content was also illustrated with a photo of the politician and his friends. Is this "news"?

By "news", I understand events that are worthwhile to be reported to the public, not frivolous non-events of interest only to those who have nothing better to do with their time.

Lately, we are also witnessing a new development which is surely influenced by the social media, particularly Facebook. On Facebook, some people put a lot of information about their personal lives which is only of interest to themselves and to those who enjoy informing themselves about the personal lives of others.

An offshoot of this is that when fatal accidents occur at work, on the motorways, etc, some reporters are gathering information from Facebook and other social media sources and publishing stories about the deceased, for several days after the accident.

In the past, this would have been regarded as being in particularly bad taste but today it has become rather common.

Now why would I, as an ordinary citizen, be interested in the personal life of somebody who was killed driving his motorcycle or car or who succumbed to a fatal accident at work?

Indeed, some news editors have reduced the news to what in the past would have been the topics of conversation at street corners between the usual village busybodies.

Once I am discussing what constitutes "news value", I cannot omit politics. Having been directly involved in politics for decades, I know the kind of pressure news editors are subjected to by politicians:

"Hello, you have a minister on the phone, he wants to know why you have not reported the ribbon-cutting ceremony he presided over the other day!”

What we need is a better filtering of the content. We need to concentrate more on worthwhile knowledge

The result is that the daily news is littered with news items consisting of what I would call useless knowledge”, e.g., about a minister planting a tree or inaugurating a company’s new offices.

Much more serious are ethical considerations about whether certain material about public persons should be published or not since it can cause suffering to innocent persons such as children.

I have always been of the opinion that the private affairs of politicians should not find themselves in the news. If nothing is being done about it and it is in the national interest to proceed on the information given, then the material should be handed over to the relevant authorities such as the police, an inquiring magistrate, etc.

Those who try to destroy a person’s political career by leaking material about their private life are beneath contempt and disgrace our nation.

I must also mention the bane of modern journalism: fake news. This is particularly true of the news as reported by the media of political parties. Fake news makes a mockery of journalism and we must do our best to stop it.

Any self-respecting editor will not publish fake news but a minority of editors succumb to political pressure. In doing so, they are letting down their journalistic colleagues.

To conclude, I think that, overall, the journalistic profession is a credit to our nation. We have a group of hard-working journalists who are dedicated to their profession and who provide us with our daily news. What we need is a better filtering of the content. We need to concentrate more on worthwhile knowledge, content that is really of news value.

Personally, I would prefer fewer but higher-quality news items.

Desmond Zammit Marmarà is a Balzan Labour councillor.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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