Concepts and misconceptions

The Times Logo

It is indeed unfortunate that the prodigious increase in the variety and accessibility of the means of mass communication that we are now witnessing has not been accompanied by a parallel refinement in the ethic of always relaying the truth. The channels through which ascertained facts and reasoned opinions can travel freely and immediately are often being used to convey half truths and well-crafted spin. What should have been carriers of information have become, sometimes, purveyors of malicious or negligent misinformation.

In politics as in war, truth very often becomes an early casualty. Truth falls foul also of commercial interests. “Populist” television programmes or sensational reporting in newspapers, motivated by the urge to attract a larger audience or readership, may lead some to discard many or all inhibitions concerning the proper way of presenting facts and opinions.

In a free and democratic society, the unimpeded flow of information and dialogue is essential. The citizen participates and exercises judgement on the basis of the information supplied and the opinion that s/he then forms on the basis of fact and argument. Nothing could be more damaging to the proper functioning of a democracy than the distortion of information and artful sophistry hammered into the minds of its citizenzry. Prejudice and bias are not put right or counterbalanced by opposite prejudice and slant. Pluralism in the sources is essential but, at times, not enough. Lies in response to lies do not establish the truth. Striving towards objectivity is imperative on all suppliers of information.

Sources of objective information and straightforward expression of reasoned opinion are essential. It would be naïve were one to imagine that, in merely exposing a prevailing lack of respect for truthful information, one would chastise the whole milieu of the media and bring it to order. Many, perhaps a substantial majority of people in the media, would genuinely aspire to conform to the norms.

What is, however, wrong on the part of the community at large is to accept as inevitable the trend towards subjecting truth to political or party interest and personal or entity profit: it is defeatist to be cynically resigned to deceit. Manipulation of facts and argumentation should be exposed: as a service to democracy and our image as a nation.

We are a stable and safe country. Our crime rate is one of the lowest. We have freedom of expression and association, not only in theory but also in practice. We enjoy the rule of law and full respect for human rights. Some institutions that guarantee this state of affairs receive less than fair treatment and they are patently not in a position to respond. When criticising Parliament, the courts of law, the police, the army, one should exercise extra scruple in establishing the facts. These institutions are not immune from comment and, indeed, in our republic should receive the full benefit of critical judgement on the part of the media as indeed of all citizens.

Negligent reporting and unfair and biased treatment of these emblematic institutions damage our image as a nation with consequnces on our tourism and foreign investment as well as our national self-respect. At times, ammunition is provided for snide remarks from other competitor countries.

It is pre-eminently a matter of principle: How can democratic government (“of the people, by the people, for the people”) achieve its best potential if the people are inundated with falsehoods, half truths and inaccurate statements, which, in their multitude and immediacy, are difficult to rebut. We (using the plural to encompass the whole of the country) have to be vigilant and arm ourselves with critical judgement which can winnow the wheat from the chaff. As in all matters, law presupposes a majority of people exercising self restraint: law can be enforced against an exceptional minority of transgressors. The larger the majority of providers of correct information and reflected upon opinion, who have subjected themselves to self regulation, the wider the area of liberty. Truth makes us free.

It used to be said that one should not expose the sins of the king. That was wrong and harmful. The men and women in authority should feel as if they were living in glasshouses.

Let their vices be known but let us not try to invent more vices than are extant. We should not be afraid to keep in check those who have been entrusted with some power in this state. On the other hand, let us not create the impression that the state of Denmark is rotten when, taken as a whole, warts and all, Malta is a country of which one is proud.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici is Minister of Justice and Home Affairs.


Asylum office is step forward

Since Malta joined the EU on May 1, 2004, at least two major steps forward towards European integration have been made, namely accession to the Schengen area and the adoption of the euro as our national currency.

The Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs was a major stakeholder with respect to Schengen accession. Today, it has the honour of seeing another initiative in which it played a leading role come to fruition – the inauguration of the European Asylum Support Office in Malta.

The unanimous decision for the European Asylum Support Office to be located in Malta was taken on November 30, 2009, at the Justice and Home Affairs Council, pursuant to a proposal by the Commission to establish such an office.

The Commission proposal itself was in direct response to the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, which provided for the establishment of a European support office with the task of facilitating the exchange of information, analyses and experience among member states, and developing practical cooperation between the administrations in charge of examining asylum applications.

In fact, the European Asylum Support Office will seek to facilitate, coordinate and strengthen practical cooperation among member states on the many aspects of asylum, as well as to provide operational support to EU members subjected to strong pressure on their asylum systems.

Needless to say, Malta stands to benefit from such provisions, particularly in the context of the renewed migratory flows being experienced this year as a result of the crisis in Libya. Indeed, the European Asylum Support Office is expected to take an active and leading role in future intra-EU resettlement initiatives.
The European Asylum Support Office is expected to initially employ 40 persons at its premises in Marsa, with the staff complement increasing gradually to between 80 and 100 by 2013. Apart from the obvious economic benefits, Malta naturally stands to gain in enhanced exposure and status that inevitably follow in the wake of the setting up of a prestigious EU agency.

Today’s inauguration of the European Asylum Support Office is therefore a historic occasion for Malta that provides further tangible evidence of Malta’s meaningful presence in the Europe Union.

This achievement has been made possible thanks to the dedication and hard work of many. Their efforts have paid dividends, and another step has been made in the process of European integration.

However, this is not only an achievement for Malta, but for the European Union as a whole. The establishment of the European Asylum Support Office constitutes recognition of the fact that asylum requires a Europe-wide approach, as opposed to a purely national approach, a point that the government has consistently stressed.

It is not sufficient for the European Union to set asylum standards while leaving member states alone to cope with the ­pressures involved; Europe’s approach must also be hands-on. This indeed is precisely what the European Asylum Support Office will set out to do.

The establishment of the European Asylum Support Office is particularly important in the context of current developments in the legislative sphere at the European level, as the European Union is working on the establishment of a Common European Asylum System.

De facto such a system can only yield the desired results if all the member states work together and if those facing disproportionate asylum pressures, like Malta, are provided with the necessary assistance in a spirit of solidarity.

Clearly, such actions do not only benefit individual member states, but also beneficiaries of international protection who have escaped persecution or violence in their countries of origin.

Our objective, as a Union, is to establish a Europe of asylum, and today marks a very significant step forward in that direction. I am proud of the key role that Malta is playing in this regard, a role fully consistent with the country’s excellent track record in the field of humanitarian assistance.

I, therefore, look forward to seeing the European Asylum Support Office expand its operational activities in the coming months. The government will continue supporting the office as necessary in order to ensure that our shared objectives are met.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici is Minister for Justice and Home Affairs.