Tim Diacono gives new meaning to the expression “devil’s advocate”

If Saviour knew that 1am call from Keith Schembri was wrong, Daphne knew it was wrong, and the rest of us all know it’s wrong, why is Tim struggling on this point?

Here is LovinMalta’s political editor Tim Diacono suggesting there’s nothing wrong with the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri (money launderer and tax evader) giving MaltaToday’s editor Saviour Balzan a wee call at 1am. That this call happened as Daphne broke the news to Malta that there was evidence of the Prime Minister’s wife’s ownership of Egrant stowed away in Pilatus Bank was also, somehow, irrelevant.

Tim actually wonders (in all seriousness) why everyone’s so hung up about Schembri calling Balzan at 1am (even if Balzan was on holiday in France at the time):

“Would it have made a difference if it was at 11pm, 2am or 7am the next morning?”

You could merely assume that Tim Diacono is awe-inspiringly and cringe-worthily naive (which is remarkable for a political commentator).

However that embarrassing hurdle would have been easily overcome had Tim had the foresight to refresh his memory a little before commenting. Because Daphne already spelled out for him why this kind of interaction is, odd over two years ago:

“The Saturday phone calls need not have been an issue, because it is completely normal for journalists to ring the Prime Minister’s chief of staff in the course of their work. But the fact that Schembri rang Balzan in the early hours of the morning, the night the Egrant Inc/Muscat story broke is clear evidence of another kind of relationship altogether.

And that is what makes it news. It is a significant indicator that Balzan is yet another cog in this particular wheel.”

Aside from the fact that any self-respecting journalist should know this, Tim also seems to have slept through the past three years of revelations. Keith Schembri is the man who was laundering money through Adrian Hillman, Managing Director of Allied Papers.

Keith Schembri is also the man who snarled at Times of Malta journalist Jacob Borg that he “paid his wages for the past three years”.

Keith Schembri is the man with at least one company in Panama with intent to launder money.

So Keith Schembri is the man who clearly likes to have a hand in the local media and has enough money to be very persuasive.

But Tim Diacono thinks it’s perfectly acceptable for him to be frantically calling Salvu Balzan, another head of a media wing (heavily dependent on government funding), as news was breaking about the third Panama account Egrant.

Actually, Tim doubles down on his point. He says that anyone who finds this behaviour in a journalist ethically and morally reprehensible is “shaming” them. No, seriously. It’s “shameful” to wonder at this 1am phone call according to Tim.

What’s especially strange about Tim’s defence of Salvu is that even Saviour Balzan himself knew the call at 1am was wrong – because his first instinct was to deny it and say he would sue Daphne for libel. It was only when it became apparent that Daphne had the call logs to prove it that he backed down and decided instead to moan about data protection.

If Saviour knew that 1am call from Keith Schembri was wrong, Daphne knew it was wrong, and the rest of us all know it’s wrong, why is Tim struggling on this point?

Your choices for interpreting Tim’s position are the following:

  1. He’s simply a bit ignorant.
  2. He hasn’t fully grasped that a journalist is meant to interrogate power, not defend it.
  3. He’s playing devil’s advocate to Saviour Balzan and Keith Schembri for some as yet inexplicable reason.

The choice is yours, but I posed a question of my own to him publicly providing my own possible explanation for why he’s playing devil’s advocate:

This is why Daphne Caruana Galizia stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Tim’s still trying to learn his journalism ethics ABCs two years after Malta’s top standard for journalism was murdered.

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