For the past 23 years, Xarabank has been a long-standing, socio-political staple on our television screens and unsurprisingly the decision to pull the plug on Malta’s most followed programme elicited very strong reactions.
I do not wish to enter into the merits of why the Public Broadcasting Services took this decision, nor dwell on its policies, but I will focus on the programme that has weaved itself into the island’s DNA.
I have to start by saying that whenever I was invited for a political discussion on Xarabank I found its rapid style of discussion frustrating as I’m not one who can just skim over an argument, preferring to present my argument in more depth.
So I was not that keen on the programme for this reason. It would, however, be a grave mistake if we do not acknowledge that Xarabank had its unique way of bringing to the fore liberal and progressive subjects, which for many in this country, were, and remain, taboo to this day.
As a consequence, its presenter and founder, Peppi Azzopardi, as well as his significant others, were subjected to hate speech. And sadly, the news that Xarabank was being pulled off the air sparked an onslaught of vitriol towards Peppi and the team behind Xarabank. It is this issue of hate speech and extreme polarisation that spurred me into writing this article.
We must acknowledge that Xarabank represented what a democracy is all about – giving people from different walks of life the chance to speak and present their thoughts and aspirations through challenging discussions. It had its own inimitable style, but this remains a democratic credential.
Peppi too is one of a kind. Throughout the years, I have come to know him as a principled person who is not deterred by hate speech and remains steadfast in his beliefs. I admire such people, even when I do not share the same beliefs or opinions. Peppi has always declared his bias and he is neither neutral nor value free.
What is wrong in being opinionated, principled and speaking up for what one believes in as long as it is respectful of others’ rights?
What is wrong in being opinionated, principled and speaking up for what one believes in?
It is wrong not to recognise the worth of this gentleman. He might be controversial for some, but what one thing is certain, Peppi has dedicated his life to following his aspirations to see less suffering and pain in the society he lived in.
An important legacy of Xarabank has been the support it provided to charities, serving as a catalyst to raise millions, be it for ALS, drug addiction, cancer patients, persons with disabilities, materially deprived individuals and families… the list of NGOs it supported to get much-needed funds over the years, is endless.
I have witnessed firsthand the invaluable contribution Peppi has given to such causes.
He not only founded the annual Boxing Day fundraiser, L-Istrina, but also worked tirelessly to support the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation to raise millions each year. This money offered a lifeline to thousands of people who were facing challenging times. Another lasting legacy of Xarabank is the platform it provided for so many young people who aspired to study media or journalism. Peppi remained an educator and Xarabank served as a career springboard for many.
We must also acknowledge the visibility Xarabank gave to so many of our political leaders and different personalities in this country, including people from the performing arts and culture, and minority groups to mention just a few.
Unfortunately, we are living in a cancel culture where many use blogs and social media platforms – or worse, use fake accounts – to spread hate, untruths and diminish the hard work of Peppi, his team and his family.
This has been, and remains, a worrying trend that has taken over civil discourse.
Hate speech is a threat to our democracy. When we intentionally or unintentionally spread lies and peddle false narratives, we are doing a huge disservice to society, which is already dangerously polarised and divided.
Why can’t we acknowledge the positive and altruistic traits in a person, whether we agree with their opinions or not? Why do we continue to pursue a polarised mentality?
No one on earth is entirely good or entirely bad and whatever the future holds, I will always be grateful to Peppi, his team and his family, for the positive and valid contributions they gave to our society.
Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, President Emeritus
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