Politics and student political organisations. Are they in cahoots together? The student organisations themselves vehemently deny it. A lot of students however, despite these denials still believe that domestic party politics plays a strong role in university politics. This evening, that argument has been given more fuel.
The appearance of Pulse Presidential candidate Jean Claude Scicluna on the political television show Pjazza, hosted by Karl Stagno Navarro, was always going to draw some question marks. What was a KSU candidate, representing an organisation that says it is independent from political parties doing on a prominently political television show that is aired on the television station of one of the country’s major political parties? In many respects, it’s a no-brainer as to why Pulse would want their candidates on television; it’s a golden opportunity to gain added reach for their team, and the appearance – even on a political show like Pjazza – could have been justified if the interview itself was handled by the show’s host in a neutral and unbiased manner.
The interview however, soon turned into a propaganda exercise, and that is largely down to Stagno Navarro himself. The first aspect to this was how the presenter approached Pulse’s keynote proposal (so far), the Parking Optimisation Project. Yesterday we reported on this project, one which will be centered around a specific area on campus; Car Park 6, and will result in an 11% increase (roughly 20 parking spaces) of parking spaces in this area. It’s a project that is no doubt interesting and has it’s own merits – but it’s a project that has been spun around by Pjazza to make it seem like it the specific figure of 11% applied to the whole of campus, as opposed to just Car Park 6, as can be seen below.
This hasn’t been the main talking point about the short interview however. Midway through the segment, Stagno Navarro, addressing the camera, said the following;
“Dan il-grupp imsejjah Pulse huwa r-risposta ghal-amministrazzjoni ahjar ta’ l-Universita ta’ Malta. L-SDM, l-Istudenti Demokristjani Maltin, ilhom is-snin hemmhekk, u x’sar fl-Universita’? Il-bambin jaf.”
He said all this with a banner stating “Ivvutaw ghall-kandidati kollha tal-Pulse” running in big letters across the bottom of the screen, seen here below.
Furthermore, Stagno Navarro ended the interview with the following words;
“Jean Claude Scicluna, jiena ser nerga narak nhar il-Erbgha li gej lejliet l-elezzjoni biex inkomplu nimbuttaw l-agenda tal-Pulse.”
The reaction to Stagno Navarro’s words have been widespread. The wanton rejection of all the work that KSU has done over the past years, has not been ignored and indeed has been widely condemned and University students across social media have labelled the interview as proof that political propaganda has leaked into University politics. SDM President Neil Smart Costantino for one defended the work that KSU has done over the past years and called for candidates participating in such television shows to correct such claims and give credit where credit is due; no doubt a reference to the fact that Scicluna did nothing to correct Stagno Navarro’s statements at the time. Outgoing KSU President Robert Napier similarly defended the hard work that KSU put in, and called for party politics to be left out of university activism.
From Pulse’s side, we looked back to the recently held Exec Debate, specifically at President Johnluke Ellul’s answer to a question relating to political intervention within organisations such as Pulse and SDM;
F’isem il-Pulse nichad totallment kull allegazzjoni li ghandna xi affiljazzjoni ma partit politiku. Jekk thares lejn l-ezekkutiv tieghi, huwa ezekkutiv li ghandu diversi kuluri differenti, jigu min partiti politici differenti; l-istess it-tim ta’ kandidati li qed nipprezentaw ghal KSU, u dan jirrifletti fis-slogan tal-kampanja taghna. Jekk thares lejn Junior College, MCAST u ITS, l-istudenti ma ghadomx jaraw ahmar u blu u anzi pjuttost saru nies indipendenti li huma maturi, jahsbu u jiehdu decizjoni, u l-istess irridu go l-universita; li ninsew id-differenzi ta’ bejnietna, ghax fl-ahhar mill ahhar jekk irridu niggwadanjaw ghal-futur taghna rridu nahdmu id f’id biex ikollna Universita’ ahjar.
After this evening’s broadcast, Ellul released a statement on his personal Facebook profile, an extract of which read as follows;
In light of the comments made earlier tonight while KSU contesting President Jean Claude Scicluna was representing Pulse on a national TV programme, I feel the need to categorically deny any sort of political endorsements whatsoever. Even more so, I disassociate myself and the organisation which I represent, from any derogative comments made in light of any previous administration’s work within the KSU council.
Calling a spade, a spade is something which I have stood by since the beginning.
Our priority on tonight’s television programme was to solely showcase our vision for a better University by discussing our mission statement as well as some of our proposals aimed to significantly improve Campus life.
On his part, Jean Claude Scicluna, whose lack of response to Stagno Navarro’s statements had also drawn him criticism, apologised publicly to Napier for the remarks that were passed by Stagno Navarro. He affirmed his belief that KSU has “always done it’s best” for the student, a testament to which is Pulse’s manifesto, which according to Scicluna will contain “several key decisions and work which will be retained by us if elected”. He re-affirmed this in a statement on his personal Facebook profile where he stated that his team’s vision for University “goes beyond partisan politics”
Looking at this debacle, one can only help but raise some questions. Were Pulse involved in what Stagno Navarro said? I, personally, sincerely have my doubts. So if Pulse were not involved with what was said, why was there such a blatant attempt from the side of the television station in question to influence people into voting for Pulse? It would be reasonable to reach the conclusion that Pulse’s campaign was used, or hijacked, by the television station in question in a political manner. For a television host of a political television show that is aired on a television channel owned by a political party to disregard years of work that KSU has done over the past years, simply because a certain student political organisation had their team of candidates in office, is shambolic, scandalous and an abject disgrace to not only all the work that KSU has fulfilled, but also to the student body as a whole. To try and turn the biggest stage of University activism into simply another battleground for the “us and them” political ideology that exists in Malta is nothing short of deplorable, and it makes a mockery of the very concept of student activism.
It is only by rising above political bi-partisanship that University will produce a proper, independent and free thinking population. I commend Jean Claude Scicluna for making a public apology and also Johnluke Ellul for disassociating Pulse from the comments that the presenter passed; but I do feel that more than a Facebook post needs to be done. Indeed, I hope and expect to see that this coming Wednesday whilst on Pjazza, instead of “pushing Pulse’s agenda”, as Karl Stagno Navarro would like to see happen, Scicluna makes it a point to first condemn what was said during Friday evening’s program. To further make sure of the point; it should be down to Karl Stagno Navarro himself to retract his disgraceful statements and say things as they are, giving credit where credit is due. Anything short of the recognition of KSU’s work over the years, irrespective of which student organisation held office, would only further prove the message that he and his television station are trying to put out; a message which was displayed loud and clear today.