Malta’s unique media landscape has equipped the government with powerful tools in its attempt to redirect the COVID-19 narrative unfolding on the island since the start of the pandemic.
This is the topic addressed by The Shift in its second guest post for the International Press Institute’s (IPI) reporting series: ‘Media Freedom in Europe in the Shadow of Covid’.
In Malta, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a number of issues around media independence and editorial autonomy, all of which have been debated for many years but for which no government ever seriously considered tangible reforms. The issue of political-party media and the public broadcaster remains at the top of the list.
#Malta's unique political-party-owned media, together with the state broadcaster, have been used by the govt to redirect the country's #COVID19 narrative, writes @TheShiftNews in new guest post for IPI.https://t.co/gdTOpRI9yi
— IPI – The Global Network for Press Freedom (@globalfreemedia) February 5, 2021
Malta had already been flagged as “high risk” in the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom’s 2020 report, prepared by the European University Institute before the first COVID-19 cases were recorded on the island, but information dissemination around the pandemic has revealed just how detrimental political party media is to media pluralism and freedom in the country.
Key points include how, in the face of mounting criticism over the premature easing of restrictions last summer, the government has consistently resorted to using the national public broadcaster and the governing Labour Party’s television station, in particular, to disseminate its narrative, whether rallying cries for “unity” or misleading videos using carefully selected data to create a positive spin in the face of rising COVID-19 cases.
The impact of using these two media outlets cannot be understated, especially since an audience assessment survey carried out by the Broadcasting Authority for the period of July 2020 shows that, excluding foreign stations, the public broadcaster TVM and the Labour Party’s ONE TV, ranked first and second respectively in their audience reach for all age groups.
What’s more, confusing messages and hyper-partisan narratives have created opportunities for voices peddling an “alternative” political viewpoint outside the partisan debate.
While Malta’s degree of party-owned media is unique in Europe, the misuse of its public broadcaster is not. MEPs are particularly concerned about the state of public service media in some EU countries, where nominally public service broadcasters have become an “example of pro-government propaganda”.
On November 25, 2020, the European Parliament adopted — by an overwhelming majority — a resolution that aims to strengthen independent media. The text points to “attempts by governments of some member states to silence critical and independent media and undermine media freedom and pluralism”, adding that “freedom of the media has been deteriorating in recent years”, and the COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated this deterioration.
Read the full article prepared by The Shift for the International Press Institute.