When Lovin Malta was founded in 2016, the idea was to add a fresh and independent voice to the media landscape, one that is as fair and impactful as possible.
Our priority was to make sure people were properly informed, even if they had stopped buying newspapers (or had never started in the first place) and were spending most of their time on Facebook.
Five years later, Lovin Malta is the online platform with the biggest following on the island. It has a large newsroom of award-winning journalists, more than 400,000 loyal readers who help shape the content every day and a thriving business model with a long list of satisfied clients that help provide sustainable profitability.
It has campaigned successfully for civil liberties, more environmental protection, transparency, better spending of taxpayer money and more open discussion on many other topics.
Lovin Malta has also paved the way for other new media outlets to blossom, and for the traditional organisations to adapt positively to changes in technology and consumer habits.
When I look around at the office today, I see a resilient and diverse team with a strong foundation and a bright future, working within a pluralistic media landscape.
Perhaps that is why I feel like my mission is complete and I am ready to dedicate my time to try and solve a new problem.
A major problem that has been preying on my mind for many months now is Malta’s democratic deficit.
The gap in support between the government and the Opposition has remained too wide for too long and the trend seems to be taking us closer towards a two-thirds majority for Labour, which would effectively mean a one-party State.
This is bad news for the Nationalist Party, but it’s even worse news for citizens, journalists, activists, pressure groups and anybody who values the principles of democracy.
No government likes to be criticised, but criticism is only really effective when a government has something to lose. Unfortunately, without the threat of an Opposition gaining in popularity, the government does not have a big enough incentive to listen to its critics.
This is made worse by the fact that this government has a habit of silencing critics rather than listening to them, despite enjoying such a large majority.
I remember when the Nationalist Party had a one-seat majority between 2008 and 2013. Anything it did or said risked triggering the collapse of government due to the wafer-thin support it had. That is one of the reasons it lost its way and stopped functioning, which is why people like me voted for Labour in 2013, hoping a new government with an ambitious vision and a stronger majority could bring about the change the country desperately needed.
But today, Labour’s seven-seat majority has resulted in the opposite extreme, and we are starting to see the consequences of it.
I have observed these consequences both as a journalist and as an entrepreneur.
For the past four years it has been practically impossible for the independent press to get an interview with the Prime Minister. Unless it is stage-managed by one of the government’s two propaganda stations (TVM and One), there seems to be no leeway. This is just one example of how freedom of information is being stifled and many important stories are not being told. This is extremely frustrating for journalists but very typical of a one-party State, even one in the making.
As a person in business, there have been other consequences. Instead of facilitating the growth of new sectors and new markets, the government has jeopardised the country’s global standing and reputation to the maddening point of greylisting. The future of doing business in Malta looks more bleak than ever. And yet we have a government that claims this is an opportunity and we should simply be positive about it. The cool attitude towards greylisting, and the even cooler attitude towards corruption that got us there in the first place, are symptoms of a government that is simply too powerful.
As a journalist and a resident of Malta I also see lots of other symptoms of the government’s unchecked power: the degradation of our environment, the disastrous regulation of the construction sector and the freedom enjoyed by cowboys versus the injustices faced by those who are honest and hardworking. These are systemic problems our country has faced for many years, and it’s time for a new generation of thinkers to address them before it’s too late.
I don’t have any hatred, bitterness or resentment towards Labour. I have respect for Prime Minister Robert Abela, who stood up to the plate at an extremely difficult time for his party and the country, only to then be immediately thrust into the COVID-19 pandemic.
My fear is that Labour has become so powerful electorally that even with the best intentions, someone like Abela cannot make the real changes necessary to clean up the mess of his criminal predecessors. This is why he keeps someone in Cabinet when he is suspected of being a bank robber. And this is what makes it impossible for Labour to get Malta off the grey list and to restore our reputation.
Then I look at the Nationalist Party, an organisation that, despite a proud history, in many ways stopped being relevant after EU membership because it had fulfilled the purpose that had driven it since the late 1970s.
By 2008, after winning eight elections in 30 years, voters had got tired of seeing them in power, and they had grown tired of being in power, especially when they were left with a crippling one-seat majority. This meant that the party began to haemorrhage talent – entire generations of it.
Today it is a shadow of its former self. But that’s where the opportunity lies. The party is ready to be rebuilt. It must be rebuilt. And it has a leader who is eager to welcome people back to help him rebuild it.
As much as I support the efforts of the smaller parties, we need to be honest in our assessment and realise that it is only the PN that has a fighting chance to grow into an alternative government, since it already enjoys 30% of the country’s support.
This is why I have decided to play my part. I am not a fervent Nationalist, but a Maltese citizen who has a natural interest in democracy. When I felt our democracy needed me to vote Labour, I did. Today, it requires something else.
To have a functioning democracy, we need a strong Opposition that is ready to govern. To do that, the Nationalist Party needs to forge a compelling and ambitious vision for the country.
The Labour government has its own vision and does not seem to be too eager to discuss it with anyone, much less change its direction. Why should it? It has popular support and the largest electoral mandate in history.
This is why the onus is now on the Nationalist Party to do better and to provide voters with a real choice at the next election and beyond that.
There is no time to waste. The sooner the polls start to change, the sooner the country will begin benefitting from a more balanced democracy.
This is why I have decided to exit Lovin Malta completely and start working within the Nationalist Party instead.
I will be relinquishing my position as CEO, my directorship and my shareholding, to give the team at Lovin Malta the freedom to scrutinise me as much as they do all other political players.
I am able to take this step with my head held high only because I have total confidence in the diverse Lovin Malta team, including those who disagree with my personal analysis of the political situation.
I also have faith in the many other people I am sure the company will continue to attract moving forward.
Lovin Malta’s leadership team, primarily David Grech and Bettina Falzon, are ready to take the reins and continue fulfilling the company’s purpose while taking it to new heights. In many ways, they have been running the show for a while and Lovin Malta has long been much bigger than any of its members.
As my chapter at Lovin Malta comes to an end, I would just like to thank everybody who has contributed so far to making this platform what it is today, in particular to each member of staff, past and present, who turned this dream into a reality beyond my wildest expectations.
Thanks especially to the incredible community of readers who contribute to Lovin Malta with their stories, ideas, criticism and loyal following. Your continued participation will be rewarded by the hard work of the journalists who will keep disrupting the media landscape and persevering to build a better Malta.
It’s been an honour and a privilege to serve this incredible organisation. I promise to apply all the things I’ve learnt to my new mission and to stay true to the values, principles and experiences that guided me from the start.
If you’re fed up with the status quo, I hope my story helps you find the confidence to go beyond complaining on social media. Roll up your sleeves and do something.
This is your country and it’s up to you to change it.