One, hopefully, gone – one to go
The bitter-sweet saga concerning public access to the placid shores of Manoel Island – arrogantly denied for 16 long years – has hopefully come to a conclusion, though I suspect there will be more hiccups in the process. It is too big an issue to go away
Great credit must be accorded to Gżira’s Labour mayor Conrad Borg Manché, who made it a mission of his to ensure that the Gżira people regained access to shores they had never been denied before, not even during the time of the autocratic Knights when the fort there was built, nor even under the British imperialists who, for a very long time, made full military use of the islet.
It was when a private company, undoubtedly with the ‘Midis’ touch under consecutive Nationalist administrations, was generously given the green light by Parliament to “restore and develop” the two most prominent sites that catch the eye as one scans Marsamxett harbour from Valletta – Tigné Point and Manoel Island – that the public was suddenly denied its old haunts where countless generations learned how to swim, how to sun-bathe and, the younger species, how to make love.
Of course the developers, in their precious concern for people’s safety and security, simply closed off the areas and made what remained of the public domain inaccessible. In both cases this closure continued for far too long. At Manoel Island especially, the whole project seemed, again for too many years, to have lingered and stalled, with people asking what really was going on and how could such a prime site be kept in a time-warped cage while the state looked helplessly on.
Now the developers have kindly acceded to provide “supervised access” to the Manoel Island shores (weekends only?) with a fixed timetable. I guess the fact that summer has already faded away into the dull days of autumn we have had of late must have had a bearing on the issue. Still, it’s progress – a step in the right direction thanks mainly to a unified Gżira local council to obtain what is their constituents’ by right, and to those young men and women of ‘Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent’ who rightly threw caution to the wind by happily snipping off padlocks and opening long-stuck, dirt-ridden gates.
That’s one public access issue gone – however, there is still one to go. A Sliema local councillor, John Pillow, rightly continues to raise a similar issue concerning public access to what used to be Tigné Point, another shore popular with swimmers, bathers and lovers alike. Sadly, he does not seem to have made the same headway that the Gżira mayor made with his council. For some strange reason, his initiative does not seem to have attracted as much interest as the Manoel Island narrative has in the past few weeks, while there have also not been other Sliema councillors coming out in support, at least publicly. Hopefully, things will have switched into higher gear by the time this piece appears.
The whole Tigné Point area has long been lost – and with hardly a whimper when it went, from bishops, parish priests, local councillors, environmentalists or the media – but public access to the shore so traditionally sought after cannot be denied anymore. Mr Pillow’s voice deserves to be heard and given the backing of the people around him.
The Manoel Island ‘victory’ – hopefully not pyrrhic – and the huge chunk of public territory regained following the Zonqor outcry at Marsascala, show that a united front and a just cause can help common sense prevail, especially when the authorities concerned are willing to listen as they have done on several occasions during the past three years.
On aping the big
Whether we admit it or not, most of us minnow nations tend to ape the big ones, even if it takes us much longer to implement things. From ideological issues, sports and television programmes to fashion, crafts, entertainment and infrastructure, there is certainly no harm in imitating and improving on the original. It is when one takes up the unsuccessful ideas and experiments, that irreparable damage can be inflicted on the national psyche.
Aping the big, therefore, should be restricted to the good ideas – two of which have surfaced lately in France and Britain.
Seriously concerned about the many dangers of plastic pollution, France has made the firm decision to outlaw all plastic kitchen utensils, opting instead for more ecologicallyfriendly, biologically-sourced materials.The new law, to come into effect in 2020, is part of an initiative called Energy Transition for Green Growth, France’s contribution to the fight against climate change. Trust the French to go for the jugular, even if not everyone in the European Union sees it as a positive strategy: the manufacturers of plastic goods are, predictably, incensed over the law.
France is not alone in trying to go green by cutting down on plastic. The state of Karnataka in India is another. In San Francisco, California, the use of plastic shopping bags and plastic bottles has been outlawed, while other countries have fixed charges on most plastic bags. Can’t we go the same way?
In the UK, government ministers want to introduce plans that would double the punishment for the illegal use of a mobile phone while driving. This could mean new drivers would lose their licence the first time they are caught using a handheld phone plus a minimum fine of £200. One text and you’re out. As one commentator put it: “if we are to change the attitudes of young drivers it has to be that harsh. They are going to have to turn off their phones at the wheel otherwise they will be taken off the road.”
Can’t we go the same way on this, too?
You would think it inevitable that the small local media end up acting like pitiful stenographers for political parties, private interests, churches and other stake-holders. He who pays the piper has to call the tune, but for the international media to get the malaise – and to make it so obvious – is a shocking 21st-century reality.
There were times when such huge media institutions and news organisations as the BBC, the London Times and, more recently, CNN and Sky were trusted to offer neutral views on world issues, but not anymore. The advent of Putin’s Russia Today (RT) has led to an unsavoury situation where truth is never the intended target. Just one solitary voice against so many in the West seems to have caused the present predicament. The following are two recent examples:
The Washington Post, that very great newspaper which gave us Watergate and which, in recent years, received a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting of the NSA leaks sent to it by Edward Snowden, now incredibly says the whistleblower should not be granted a presidential pardon from US President Barack Obama.
A recent heated exchange between the Russian and American ambassadors at the United Nations saw the US envoy, Samantha Power, even taking time to criticise RT during a Security Council meeting – this from the representative of a country where the mainstream media act like ventriloquists for the White House and the State Department every time an RT report covers a story they don’t and so getting the truth, or a semblance of it, to as many people as possible. Why is this just one station receiving so much political attention when others have been at it for decades?
Is it any wonder that Pope Francis has felt he had to come out strongly against journalism based on gossip? He was, of course, referring to several pressing issues affecting the world – particularly the coverage of the migrant crisis in the wake of the wars in Syria, the Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. His insistence that journalism should not be a “weapon of destruction against persons and even entire peoples” strikes a chord in each and every one of us in the media.
According to the Pontiff, journalism should not be about what you believe, but about being honest, and never going ahead with a story if you know it to be false.