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PBS – a public disservice

The Shift News analysed the social media data of PBS and found a ‘media blackout’ on critical stories.

TVM

Growing concerns that State-owned PBS is failing in its constitutional obligation to impartiality by under-reporting stories that cast the government and the Labour Party in a bad light are confirmed by an analysis of PBS’ social media data by The Shift News.

A recent editorial in The Malta Independent described PBS’s lack of impartiality as “disgraceful”. Reno Bugeja has run the PBS newsroom since Labour leader Joseph Muscat’s first election in May 2013 and has come under fire for his pro-government bias.

The Shift News recently revealed that Angela Azzopardi Agius, a presenter and host on Television Malta (TVM), is on the Labour Party’s national executive despite PBS guidelines prohibiting news presenters associating with political parties.

TVM broadcaster and chair of the Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM) Norma Saliba was also appointed to a government advisory board, a position she will retain until 2020.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at Norma Saliba’s wedding in April covered by TVM.

Data was scraped directly off Twitter using software written for The Shift News that filters tweets by keywords. The 3,200-tweet limit is imposed by Twitter. Re-tweets of external content were excluded from the analysis.

An analysis by The Shift News of 3,200 of PBS’s most recent tweets from its only twitter account, @TelevisionMalta (for TVM), confirms these concerns, revealing consistent under-reporting of major scandals that dominate all other media outlets except Labour Party-owned media outlets.

The TVM Twitter account has over 9,500 followers and its tweets are links to PBS content. TVM is Malta’s most popular television station with a 39.1% national audience share, followed by Labour Party-owned ONE with 14.2% and Nationalist Party-owned Net TV with 10.7%.

The analysis reveals that TVM tweeted just four stories on Pilatus Bank, a corruption scandal exposed by Daphne Caruana Galizia implicating the Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri. Labour Party-owned ONE tweeted five stories on Pilatus Bank.

TVM Pilatus Bank

This contrasts sharply with independent media outlets The Malta Independent, The Times of Malta, LovinMalta and MaltaToday, which tweeted an average of 36 stories each on Pilatus Bank while Nationalist Party-owned Net tweeted 29 stories.

State-owned TVM and Labour Party-owned ONE News’s coverage of Pilatus Bank was 88% lower than independent media.

Similar conclusions are reached when analysing tweets using the words“corruption” or “korruzzjoni”. While TVM and ONE tweeted just two stories each that explicitly use the words, the same independent media outlets tweeted an average of 14 stories each. Net tweeted 21 stories.

State-owned TVM and Labour Party-owned ONE News’s coverage of corruption was 86% lower than independent media.

The Shift News uncovered clear patterns in the Twitter data:

  • Systematic under-reporting of important news items by TVM, hiding them from its viewers and readers when those items are harmful to the government and the Labour Party’s reputation.
  • No difference in the reporting coverage pattern of TVM and ONE, with both systematically under-reporting the same important news items.
  • Dramatic differences in the reporting coverage pattern of TVM and independent media, including The Times of Malta, The Malta Independent, MaltaToday and LovinMalta.

According to the twitter data analysed by The Shift News, PBS appears to be in breach of the Constitution’s Article 119, which obliges broadcasters to report on politics with due impartiality; the Broadcasting Act’s article 13.2, which demands that news is presented with due impartiality and is given sufficient time, and PBS’s own Guidelines on the Obligation of Due Impartiality.

TVM broadcaster Norma Saliba promoting the Labour Party election slogan.

TVM and ONE under-reporting news that is critical of the government creates a “media blackout,” governing party-enforced censorship of news related to certain topics it does not want covered.

As the State broadcaster acts as a tool of the governing party, TVM’s audience share (39.1%) adds onto the governing party audience share (ONE with 14.2%), creating a situation in which the majority (53.3%) of Malta’s audience consumes only governing party media, decimating the ability of the Fourth Estate to hold government to account.

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