A sop for a journalist Cerberus? – Father Joe Borg


In Greek mythology, Cerberus was the three-headed watchdog that guarded the entrance to Hades, the god of the Underworld, the last resting place of human souls after death.

The ancient Greeks and Romans developed the custom of putting gifts with corpses for Cerberus to pass. In the Aeneid, Virgil told of Aeneas who threw a drugged cake at Cerberus, thus allowing the hero to safely pass the monster. Today, the expression “a blow to Cerberus” means something offered to appease someone, to silence him, an appeasement.

The greatest Cerberus of all of us

Let’s move quickly to present-day Malta. Journalists have the role of watchdog, not to guard the underworld but to expose what is going on in the underworld, whether it is only criminals or whether it is a mixture of organized crime. , big business and politicians.

The tallest Cerberus among us was Daphne Caruana Galizia. The kingpins of the underworld did not throw him a drugged cake but blew him into a thousand pieces. Before that, they drugged and poisoned public opinion.

The cabal that ran the prime minister’s office dehumanized and demonized her. The state apparatus was not used to defend a journalist. It was used to prepare the ground for the murder of the journalist.

A public inquiry found the state guilty. The public inquiry offers journalists and the public we serve a unique opportunity to create an enabling environment that is genuinely protective of journalists.

One of the proposals of the survey is the creation of an expert committee made up of academics, experts in media law, journalists and owners of press houses. The mission of this committee would be to examine in depth the status of journalism, the exercise of freedom of expression and the recognition of the status that journalists should enjoy, among others.

Certainly not the prime minister

The obvious question is: who should be in control of this process?

The more than obvious answer is: certainly not the Prime Minister. If there is one lesson to be learned from the assassination of Caruana Galizia, and the vile revelations that still shake the country to its foundations, it is that journalists must tell the government: do not insist on journalism, don’t interfere.

Journalists should be in the driver’s seat of reform while the prime minister and government should stay on the sidelines.

The public inquiry report offers us journalists a unique opportunity to put in place structures which will strengthen the press in Malta and make it truly and concretely recognized as the fourth pillar of democracy.

The description of journalists as the fourth pillar of democracy is not gossip. It should have tangible constitutional, legislative and organizational ramifications.

Oscar Wilde said: “In America the president reigns for four years and journalism rules forever and ever.”

Journalists should be in the driver’s seat of reform while prime minister and government should stay on the sidelines– Father Joe Borg

This is also true in Malta where, unfortunately, journalism lacks the legal backing, protection and recognition as a pillar of democracy on a par with the other pillars of democracy, namely the executive, the judicial and legislative.

Journalists are not like, for example, doctors, accountants, periti, etc. No one sees them as areas or pillars of democracy. They provide valuable services and are therefore regulated, and need a license to operate, which can also be revoked. Journalists are not just service providers. We are the watchdog for other areas.

Red lines not to be crossed

Journalists worthy of the name, for example, should be totally against the licensing of journalists and against the existence of a regulatory authority for journalists. These two proposals would only undermine journalism. These are red lines that cannot be crossed because, if they are crossed, they cannot be uncrossed.

I was shocked to read a press release from the President’s office saying that he had discussed with the Maltese Institute of Journalists the establishment of a “national regulatory structure”.

It is more than shocking to learn that, during a meeting of the same institute with the Prime Minister, the idea of ​​widening the field of action of the Broadcasting Authority to the press was evoked.

How can a self-respecting journalist not come out of a play when an actor in power even talks about the regulation of journalism?

We wouldn’t even begin to imagine a scenario where the members of the institute were not opposed to the idea of ​​regulation. It would be journalism’s ultimate betrayal.

Journalists should be self-regulated, not regulated. The self-regulatory body should be responsible for monitoring compliance with a code of ethics drafted by journalists, not imposed from above. Such self-regulatory bodies vary from those that “name and shame” (like the IĠM) to those that can even impose a fine, like IPSO in England. We can study the best model for Malta.

Journalists must insist that it is they who must propose the names of the members and the mandate of the committee of experts proposed by the public inquiry. They would then discuss it with the authorities to find a consensus that would ensure that this committee has adequate resources, conducts a broad public consultation and works on schedule.

He is expected to publish his report and propose suggested legislative changes to parliament.

We are journalists, not prostitutes. We discuss the principles first, then the subsidies. The basic agreement on principles should be the basis for everything else. It’s a do or die scenario.

I sincerely hope that Cerberus will take a principled stand and will not be fooled by a fool from Castile.

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