Norma Saliba’s appointment as Head of PBS increases concern in a problematic media landscape

The Board of Directors at national broadcaster PBS has unanimously voted for Labour sympathiser Norma Saliba to become Head of News, despite a recent report which classified Malta as a “high risk country” on media pluralism.

Saliba, a former One TV journalist and news anchor at PBS, will be replacing veteran journalist Reno Bugeja. Saliba’s appointment comes only days after a country report by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom highlighting worrisome results in areas such as political independence, media funding and editorial autonomy.

Appointment procedures for the Broadcasting Authority was one of the problems highlighted in the report. The State broadcaster plays an important role in terms of public access to unbiased news in a media landscape dominated by political party media that leaves very little room for independent coverage of news.

A Labour Party sympathiser driving TVM’s news agenda will cast more doubt on the workings of what is supposed to be an unbiased broadcaster. TVM news remains the most watched evening news, and heavily influences those who solely rely on television for news.

Saliba’s close ties to the Labour Party are public knowledge. Disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was a witness at the marriage of Saliba and Manuel Micallef, which was covered by TVM.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at Norma Saliba’s wedding in April 2018, which was covered by TVM.

Her husband, Manuel Micallef, is the former Head of News at the Labour Party TV station and continues to present programmes on the Party’s channels. His son, Jean Claude Micallef, is a government MP who recently called for journalists to have warrants issued by the government.

While still chairing the Institute of Journalists, Saliba was also appointed to the stamp design advisory group.

During the general elections, when the Labour Party campaigned with the slogan “Malta Tagħna Lkoll” her posts on social media reflected her loyalty and it is expected to influence news coverage of issues at a time when the Party in government fights off a stream of scandals.

Norma Saliba promoting the Labour Party’s electoral message in the 2017 general election.

An analysis carried out by The Shift on TVM coverage showed consistent under-reporting of major scandals which dominated all other media outlets, except the Labour Party owned media.

For instance, at the peak of the Pilatus Bank stories, a corruption scandal exposed by murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, TVM news only tweeted four stories about the scandal. Other independent news websites posted an average of 36 tweets on the same topic.

Speaking at the public inquiry which is looking into Caruana Galizia’s assassination, a spokesperson for Reporters without Borders (RSF) expressed her concern at the biased news coverage on TVM and its impact on freedom of expression in the country.

Pauline Adès-Mével referred to the fact that TVM had failed to mention a demonstration attended by thousands of people and lasting some five hours. Instead, the State broadcaster presented it as a few people gathering to pay tribute to the journalist.

“The report just said that people were paying tribute to Daphne and there was no mention of a four or five hour-long demonstration on the streets of Valletta,” Adès-Mével told the Board of Inquiry.

                           
                               

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