Media critic Tanja Cilia
How would you describe the current media landscape in Malta?
Is our media ‘taking off’ or ‘crash landing’ a couple of years after the introduction of media ‘pluralism’?
TC: It’s choked with toast-type paraphernalia. How much of what is thrown at us on the audio-visual media or the print media will be relevant tomorrow? A degree in journalism does not make one a communicator, and a degree in communications does not make one a journalist. And being eye candy, loud, or pseudo-controversial does not make one an able presenter.
What are the qualities we lack in ‘media’ presenters?
TC: The most lacking is definitely what we used to call General Knowledge. This strikes me each time I hear a news-commentator quote Cameron; or a disc-jockey refer to Travis in the singular; and each time a pause and a series of clicks (or the shuffle of magazine pages) indicate that a presenter is looking up something and translating verbatim, on air. This also indicates a lack of preparedness. Then I could mention manners, diction, attitude, false bonhomie, little-girl voices, language, puny and repetitive vocabulary, respect, clothes sense…but let’s not go there.
Has the popularization of media given us more of a voice?
TC: If by “us” you mean compulsive callers who monopolise the airwaves and probably cover the wages of Melita and Go executives, or those whose fingers itch to leave comments in online newspapers and blogs, then I would say that whereas it might be a voice, it is mostly an echo.
Do we have a culture of media criticism?
TC: We – the collective we – criticise the media not because it sleeps on the job, or because it is slapdash. We criticise it because it does not conform to our idea of what the media ought to be. Alas, some people still think that just because “It was in the papers”, ergo, “it must be true”.
How is social media contributing or not to the media landscape?
TC: Let’s go back to the physical geography allusion: some of it puts out forest-fires with gasoline (apologies to David Bowie); and some of it razes the trees of the taiga to render it inhospitable to creatures such as shrews, bats, weasels, foxes hawks and wolves. Whether this is a good thing is a moot point. Some of us, however, use our social media as a combination of online magazine and public chat-line. We find interesting features in newspapers and magazines and post them online for others to access through one outlet, and an interactive way to hone our verbal sparring and Lateral Thinking skills.
Is citizen journalism effective?
TC: It is effective inasmuch as it highlights facts that the professional (read traditional) media are not privy to, or would seek to keep hidden… given the six degrees of separation issue that in Malta probably becomes three or less. It brings literal meaning to “on the spot” and “breaking news” situations. But it also clogs the ether with inconsequential tattle.
Is the media influencing the political scenario?
TC: It works both ways, really. Politicians and political party representatives have long considered themselves journalists. They- usually the males, who tend to have no truck with housework – churn out mediocre column inches to keep their name in the limelight and their fan-base satisfied.
If they can manage a couple of cheap digs at their rivals, so much the better. Some of them stop just this side of fabricating news, which I deem obscene.
In any case, most of the local media preaches to the choir; the bias does nothing to eliminate the political divide.
Are you happy in terms of content and presenters that our national broadcaster is offering?
TC: I address this important issue almost every Sunday in my television critique column. In an ideal world, the National Broadcaster would top every category in every survey by any entity, including the ones commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority. There is a whole gamut of reasons why this is not so; not least that out-sourced programmes, and those where production companies purchase air time, are by definition ‘not necessarily perfect’.
Do you feel we need to address any changes in the Broadcasting Authority?
TC: It’s time to alter the set-up that maintains ‘balance’ by having an equal number of political representatives from the two major parties. Are there not /enough Kevin Costners, Sean Connerys, and Andy Garcias around, to warrant a clean sweep of these puerile strategies? Is there really a need to count minutes of advertising when self-styled opinion-makers stretch the truth and dress their insinuations with spleen sauce? Whatever happened to the intention to safeguard the proper use of the vernacular?
Can we ‘hand on heart’ say that we have independent media houses?
TC: It behoves them to hedge their bets. It would not do to alienate the incumbent Government – or its only possible alternative. We do have a couple of individuals who are apolitical, within the machines, yes; but they are merely cogs who have to toe their employers’ line.
Are journalists their own ‘wo/man’, or are they part of the clock work?
TC: Freelancers tend to find it profitable to throw in their lot with someone, in order to ensure a steady flow of work, especially if they are the breadwinners of their household. Indeed, some of us have sold our souls by accepting to work as interns in places where partiality was not only assumed and expected, but demanded. But if a journalist is an employee, he cannot very well express opinions that contrast with the ethos of where his work is carried.
And then, of course, there are journalists who write with the intention of submitting their work for awards.
What is the ‘favourite’ piece you have written?
TC: My next one.
Is our educational system preparing children for writing, reading, analysing?
TC: No. A child who shows initiative and questions what the teacher says is called out on being cheeky and making his peers lose precious learning time.
I have known teachers who make students underline text in books, in order to re-copy it down in exercise-books, and study it for examination purposes. This is totally different from the study of poetry or drama scripts. Teachers shamelessly compile sheaves of notes from different sources on the internet and charge students for these “booklets” – in which a good amount of the text is repeated, since no editing is done to remove duplicate content.
Fill-in-the-blanks hand-outs do not require much student effort; but they enable children to achieve high scores in homeworks. Moreover, it has become trendy not to correct all the mistakes a child does, “lest he be discouraged”, and so the child assumes that misspellings and wrong syntax and thinking in Maltese when writing English are not only acceptable, but also correct.
This is creating a vicious circle, because these children are tomorrow’s teachers, and just like today’s teachers are yesterday’s students brought up in a factory-farming-conveyor-belt system that leave precious little time for analysing, or even the aptitude for it.
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