Veteran journalist and wartime researcher Martin Debattista said print newspapers have been in decline for years and the future of the print version looks bleak, while the importance of online news gains momentum.

“I sincerely believe in online newspapers as a bastion of professional journalism and an informed point of view in our post-truth society, which is plagued by misinformation, fake news and new forms of misleading information that are sometimes impossible to be distinguished from traditional war propaganda,” Debattista said.

Debattista recently published his new book The Front Line Front Page – Maltese Newspapers and the Second World War, where he made a number of discoveries analyzing the active role of Maltese newspapers during the most destructive and devastating war in history.

Talk with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Debattista stressed that the aim of this book was to publish a unique reference work volume which would satisfy the need of anyone interested in Maltese journalism and the Maltese media during the Second World War.

Although there are many books and research on the Second World War, Debattista noted that the wide range of books on the period tend to obscure the role of Maltese newspapers, focusing mainly on the military features of the conflict.

“Many authors have limited themselves to saying that the Malta weather did not miss an edition despite the bombardments. Others have used some of the front pages of the diary chronicling major events of the war, such as the awarding of the George Cross or the surrender of Italy and Germany, for simple illustrative purposes. , said Debattista.

The book tells the story of how Maltese newspapers lived through Malta’s experience of World War II, from the daily struggle to report under wartime conditions to their role in the Maltese political landscape leading up to the war and their contribution to wartime propaganda.

He explained that the basis of the book is his undergraduate thesis in communication at the University of Malta which he submitted in 1995; pre-internet time.

“The review I had received from the reviewers was so good that I was encouraged to publish, but I never found time to update the research until recently. This new research, especially the part on newspapers and propaganda, quadrupled the word count and gave the book its current form,” Debattista said.

Debattista explained that his research proves how newspapers played an important role in terms of propaganda and reflected the daily struggles of the Maltese and the military during the Second Great Siege of Malta.

Although the book is a scholarly work, it is written with both scholars and the average reader in mind, the former benefiting from full references and an extensive bibliography, while the latter is given the relevant context of the war, a said Debattista.

Female figures during World War II played significant and noteworthy roles in publishing

Debattista talked about the most surprising thing he learned while writing this book, saying he was “surprised by more than one discovery, which made the effort more worthwhile.”

Although I confirmed that the Malta weather didn’t miss a single issue, its sister newspaper in the Maltese language, il-Berqacould also boast the same record and had a larger circulation than the English-language newspaper“said Debattista.

My book does justice to the Maltese newspaper which I also discovered used a harsher tone against the Italians in terms of bashing the enemy. I also confirmed that the newspapers had no role in creating the legend of the three obsolete Gloster Gladiator fighters – Faith, Hope and Charity – who defended Malta against all odds at the start of the war“said Debattista.

He also added that among his discoveries he discovered that Although Mabel Strickland, the official editor of Allied Newspaper Ltd, was a true leader in times of crisis, the publishing house had other very capable female figures of note, such as financial controller Alice Amato and the head of news Malta weather Winnie Cutajar Beck. This was unheard of in conservative Malta at the time.

Asked about the evolution of the Maltese newspaper since the Second World War, compared to today, Debattista said it was impossible to compare newspapers during the war and newspapers today.

However, he argued that “even though the front pages of Maltese newspapers in 1939, before Italy declared war on Britain the following June, spoke of a distant war, so much so that the editor in chief of Leħen is-Sewwa lamented that sales fell as the buzz around the start of the war on September 3, 1939 had died down.

“It is the same fatigue that we feel today for distant wars. Since then, newspaper readership has exploded and then contracted again with the advent of online news,” Debattista said.

He noted that the partisan element is pervasive, saying that “today we tend to complain about the strong presence and influence of political media in Malta, but let’s not forget that the newspapers of Allied Newspapers Ltd belonged to the Constitutional Party and they kept their nemesis – the Nationalist Party – in their sights all the time.

During the Second World War, the only newspapers to appear regularly therefore belonged to a political party. The fact that the Nationalist party leadership was pro-Italian and interned during the war gave the Stricklandian press even more ammunition.n, said Debattista.

Meanwhile, Debattista also spoke about the type of front pages during World War II, saying that text with large headlines rather than large color photos dominated front pages, at a time when photography, mostly black and white, was expensive to produce and print. .

He added that “ironically the first air raids on Malta on June 11, 1940 did not make the headlines. Malta weather and he-Berka (il-Berqa). This was reversed in due time.

The Malta weather continued to cover more international events to satisfy its overseas readership in Malta and this trend only changed towards the end of the 20th century, he said.

When asked if he thinks an attractive cover page entices people to buy the newspaper, he replied that they are essential, but sales of print newspapers continue to decline, while those of newspapers online continue to rise.

The book sells for €45 and is available in major bookstores. It is also available online from the publisher at