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

Malta Independent - - MOMENT IN TIME -

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?

Me­dia malaise

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.

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