The government spent over €66,000 advertising the 2019 Budget alone, according to information tabled in Parliament by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in response to a parliamentary question by Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi.
Muscat said the total cost covered expenses for adverts and “informative” spots in newspapers and on TV, radio and the internet. The main message to the public was that the Budget was a reflection of “Malta’s Living Success”.
The government spent €34,000 on Facebook, Google and Instagram advertising alone.
Another €32,000 was spent on adverts on TVM, Net TV, Times of Malta, The Malta Independent, Lovin Malta, Malta Today, Bay Radio, as well as Labour press One TV, Torca and Kulhadd.
The government spends additional millions of euro promoting various initiatives and programmes, and that excludes political campaign advertising.
Between 2013 and 2017, the government spent a total of €2.5 million on social media advertising -the Prime Minister’s office alone spent over €553,000. The Gozo Ministry spent another €395,000.
The Budget adverts promoted the Labour government’s “Third Budget Surplus”- making use of a significant buzzword in the propaganda toolkit.
Many were critical of the budget, saying it “lacked creativity” and failed to address the need for constitutional reform and a strengthening of the rule of law. The Malta Employers’ Association noted that the Budget fell short of any concrete vision of a sustainable economy.
All of this expenditure is funded by taxpayers, not the Labour Party or individual candidates. Some Ministries do not even have their own social media platforms. Instead, adverts are placed on the platforms of individual candidates which results in a situation where members of the public are funding Ministers’ individual campaigns with their taxes.
Between June and November last year, Environment Minister Jose Herrera spent over €28,000 on Facebook adverts for the four entities that fall under his Ministry.
It was also reported that in the previous year, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi was availing himself of around €1,100 of taxpayers’ money every month, to promote himself on social media, despite his habit of refusing the press access to his various events to avoid scrutiny.
Heavy government spending on advertising in the media is an increasing cause for concern as a tool to exert control over information. Studies have noted an increasing trend in which governments use advertising money to fund media outlets that advance the government’s agenda and the interests of its allies and supporters.