Columnist Kristina Chetcuti said on Saturday she would “not be bullied into silence”, after coming under severe fire for her opinion piece in last week’s edition of The Sunday Times of Malta.
In the opinion piece, entitled ‘On being a martyr’, the former reporter and partner of former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said that people should leave their children out of politics.
She wrote that schoolground bullying was “bound to happen” and parents should not “wail ‘Mhux fer’ ” if their children were not invited to birthday parties.
Ms Chetcuti was indirectly referring to comments made by the wife of the Prime Minister, Michelle Muscat. Speaking on Xtra, Ms Muscat said her children’s school had not protected them from bullying, pointing out that there were school parties from which her children had been excluded.
Ms Chetcuti’s comments drew the ire of members of the Labour government, including several MPs, with many interpreting her opinion piece as being tolerant of school bullying. The newspaper L-Orrizont even ran front-page stories in the same vein.
They encouraged people to repeat their lies until virtually everyone believed I am in favour of bullying
In an article published on Sunday, the Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, Citizenship and Simplification of Administrative Processes, Julia Farrugia Portelli, says she was appalled by Ms Chetcuti’s “ruthless” article.
Calling the piece “horrifying”, Ms Farrugia Portelli says bullying is a grave crime. “Daily, thousands of children around the world fail to go to school because of the chilling fear of being bullied again,” she writes.
Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana also condemns the opinion piece in a letter. “It seemed for the writer having a different partisan opinion is licence to attack indiscriminately all persons close to your target,” Dr Caruana says.
And in Saturday’s Talking Point in the Times of Malta, Equality Minister Helena Dalli insisted bullying left scars. “I really doubt whether Ms Chetcuti would have argued this way had the children in question not been those of the Prime Minister. Would the author have trivialised the situation in the matter she did? I don’t think so,” wrote Dr Dalli.
Earlier in the week, the wife of current Opposition leader Adrian Delia waded into the controversy, saying her children had been excluded because of “blinkered political ideas”.
“I ask parents and guardians to imagine how you would feel if your young son excitedly hopes and waits till the last day for the invitation to be handed over to him in class and yet no invitation is in the pipeline,” Nickie Vella de Fremeaux wrote on Facebook.
However, the columnist told The Sunday Times of Malta the very notion that she would agree with bulling is “ridiculous”.
“Nowhere did I say that I agree with bullying, or that bullying is not harmful or that it’s fine for children of politicians to be bullied,” she insisted. “How can I say that when firstly, I am a parent, secondly, my partner is a politician himself and thirdly, when all my working life I’ve been committed against all sorts of bullying,” Ms Chetcuti said.
She said the government had engaged in “orchestrated spin”.
“The Head of Communication at the Office of the Prime Minister and his OPM staff – all people paid from our taxes – took to social media to misquote me, to attack me for things that I never said and then used State institutions and ministers to propagate their lies,” Ms Chetcuti said.
“They encouraged people to repeat their lies until virtually everyone believed that I am in favour of child bullying. The hatred was so vicious that someone even said that I should commit suicide,” she added.
This style of “systematic attack” had become commonplace for those who stand up to the government, Ms Chetcuti said.
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