But spare a thought for Joe Vella Bonnici, a martyr to the cause of punditry when he is not performing his duties as chief executive officer of the Institute for the Promotion of Small Enterprises. There is almost nothing about the Sunday papers that doesn’t cause Vella Bonnici to break into a cold sweat. They’re too big, too colourful, have too many adverts, and cost too much. As if that weren’t enough, there are too many of the damned things.
With seven newspapers to process, there just aren’t enough hours in the day, he notes. Especially when, oddly enough, more people are “getting glued to their computers or television sets”.
Vella Bonnici is bewildered by the weak influence wielded by the invisible hand of market forces on the price he has to pay for his reading material:
“One would have expected that this intense competition would drive their prices down. Still, they keep going up.”
But after cynically and sarcastically casting doubt on the value of the papers, he concedes some ground to the impact of commodity prices on the cost of publishing the weeklies:
“There could be other considerations, such as the weight of paper used…”
But Vella Bonnici wavers between caustic misgivings and pietistic devotion in his views on the Sunday papers. Indeed, for all his criticisms, he describes the process of reading the weeklies as “worshipping on the sacred altar of journalism”, a frankly disturbing image with hints of the black mass about it.
But in a sharp switch in tone, Vella Bonnici reverts again to a position of cavilling denunciation:
“Sunday papers too have their share of sermons. They all speak on behalf of the truth. As Joe Jackson chanted way back in the 1970s, ‘Sunday papers don't get no lies... Sunday papers don't got no eyes’. Or do they?”
History does not relate whether Jackson was thinking of Roamer’s Column, Lino Spiteri or Adrian Muscat Inglott when he penned those lines, but other verses from the song suggest otherwise:
“If you want to know about the gay politician,
If you want to know how to drive your car,
If you want to know about the new sex position,
You can read it in the sunday papers, read it in the sunday papers.”
That stuff is usually in The Times on Thursdays.
It transpires, however, that there is a reason behind Vella Bonnici’s folly. And it is not just sour grapes that he has not been offered his own slot in any of the papers on Sunday.
“Why do I bother to read the Sunday papers? It is mostly in search of inspiration for my opinion pieces. It is not easy to find what I want, especially as I am never sure of what I am looking for.”
At this stage, it is tempting to take pity on Vella Bonnici, as one might on a drunk tramp trying to climb back onto the seat of a broken bicycle. But the jaw-droppingly irony-deficient assertion that follows his plea for enlightenment obviates any such sentimentality.
“It is then that I realise that, not only do we have too many Sunday papers, but also too many opinion writers.”
Unmolested by any sense of his own ridiculousness, Vella Bonnici pontificates in mangled English on the relative literary merits of columnists, before hypocritically calling for a cutback in media output in the name of the environment. But wait a minute:
“Naturally, I speak for myself.”
Well, that’s alright then.