Media Today co-owner Saviour Balzan has bagged another €20,000 to provide consultancy services directly to the justice minister for a year, topping over €1 million in contracts over five years already revealed through a series of Freedom of Information requests by The Shift.
Through his private company Business 2 Business Limited, Balzan was provided with another contract to provide services to Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, according to a list of direct orders for the last six months of 2020 recently published in the Government Gazette.
The contract renews his previous one, in which Balzan advised Minister Edward Zammit Lewis on how to act in public, prepare responses to political statements and criticism, and coach him during various sessions he has to attend with the minister.
The Shift has revealed how Balzan, through his companies controlling Malta Today and his private TV business through state-sponsored programmes of PBS, has received more than €1 million from government coffers during the past five years, between 2015 and 2020.
It is as yet unclear what government contracts continue to sustain Balzan in 2021 apart from the lucrative contracts he still holds at PBS. Balzan, the only independent newsroom editor still getting contracts to produce current affairs programmes for the public broadcaster PBS, swooped into the space left after newsrooms like The Times of Malta had their PBS programmes axed.
On top of the PBS contracts, Balzan was awarded at least 30 separate contracts to provide media and editorial consultancy and services to ministers in the last five years, effectively making him a government-funded spin doctor, The Shift has revealed as a result of a series of Freedom of Information requests.
His biggest client, apart from PBS, was Transport Minister Ian Borg, who gave Balzan contracts not only directly through his ministry but also through agencies he controls, mainly Transport Malta and Infrastructure Malta. The minister was a guest on Balzan’s TV programme only last week.
Contracts with various ministries seen by The Shift and personally signed by Balzan show that he is advising and coaching ministers on their media appearances at the same time as he is editing and penning stories, editorials and commentaries on his own newspapers.
Transport Minister Ian Borg, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis and Education Minister Justyne Caruana have all handed Balzan tens of thousands of euros in contracts to act as their personal advisor.
Balzan signed agreements through which he bound himself and his employees to prepare scripts and media strategies for government ministries, including “holding sessions with the minister and with senior officials within the ministry on media perception,” according to contracts seen by The Shift as a result of Freedom of Information requests submitted over eight months.
During Balzan’s previous stint as Minister Zammit Lewis’s communication strategist- via a one year contract signed on 10 September 2020 – his newspaper, Malta Today, carried an interview with the same minister, at a time, two months ago, when the justice minister was facing pressure to resign following the publication of intimate chats with his friend, accused murderer Yorgen Fenech, in which he called his own voters “Ġaħan” (village idiot).
Balzan’s direct contracts to act as a government spin doctor while managing an independent media house do not include other payments in government-sponsored advertising and paid content published in his newspapers.