October’s media circus: how politicians dominate coverage

The Shift analyses public appearances on TV, radio and social media

 

It is no secret that political parties in Malta have a dominant influence on the media landscape in Malta – almost 90% of the island prefers to get its news either from TVM, the state broadcaster that is controlled by the government, NET, or One, the Nationalist and Labour party’s media outlets, respectively.

With that in mind, The Shift analysed media appearances made by government ministers throughout the month of October. Ministers got extensive coverage and various forms of media attention that were heavily promoted and disseminated by the mainstream media, ranging from appearances on talk shows, to trick-or-treating stunts, to interviews.

Overall, the three biggest overarching threads which government ministers were pushing were the Budget speech, the apparent ‘non-election’ hype, and the Metro project.

Extended interviews

A significant number of ministers were keen to secure extended interviews, a convenient format in which a minister can be seen answering questions while largely controlling the flow of the conversation since there is nobody present to actively counter their claims unless the interviewer does so.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg gave at least three such interviews this month alone, appearing on Lovin Malta, Times of Malta and the TV station F Living within the span of a week.

Similarly, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, whose media profile was highly elevated due to his key role in the run-up to the Budget speech, made an appearance on Lovin Malta, Saviour Balzan’s TVM programme XTRA, and gave an extended interview to Malta Today.

Non-election hype

Prime Minister Robert Abela successfully maximised media attention when he was repeatedly accused of fostering uncertainty in the country by allowing weeks of electoral speculation before the Budget speech, only to pull the rug out from everyone’s feet by categorically denying that an early election would be held just a few days later, ensuring that the PN’s “eagerness” to go for an election is instead used as a stick to beat them with.

Social media frenzy

Virtually every minister’s social media profile went into overdrive this month, with daily posts directly targeting constituents by showing off pictures of ministers on tour in their constituents’ localities. One of the heaviest users of social media for this purpose is Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia, with Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri and Social Accommodation Minister Roderick Galdes running close behind him.

In particular, former Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms and Equality Rosianne Cutajar and Minister for Economy and Industry Silvio Schembri both capitalised on Halloween weekend, literally treating constituents’ children to goodie bags full of sweets in spite of increasing scrutiny of the practice of distributing freebies to potential voters or their families.

The transport debate

Using glitzy adverts all over the island as well as a massive warehouse that was temporarily erected in front of Valletta’s main entrance, authorities have spent well over a million euros on the drawing up and presentation of the Metro proposal, with Prime Minister Robert Abela and Transport Minister Ian Borg on the forefront of every related press event.

Questions sent to Transport Malta about the overall marketing budget for the proposal remain unanswered in spite of multiple reminders sent over the past weeks.

Inches of column space

While far from being a new practice, there was also a noticeable increase in the amount of opinion column space given to ministers in independent media outlets. In particular, the tactic seems to be favoured especially by Research and Innovation minister Owen Bonnici, Education Minister Justyne Caruana and Inclusion Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli all published multiple columns across various portals this month.

Duopoly debates

A common practice employed by both Labour and Nationalist media outlets involves sniping at the opposing party through the publication of brief, out-of-context clips from debates held between representatives of both to score political traction with social media followers.

While ministers who were observed carrying out the practice did sometimes post full interviews, social media algorithms are known to favour bite-sized video content, with the short clips obtaining much more attentive viewership than the full-length debates. Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, Energy Minister Miriam Dalli and Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia were all spotted doing so multiple times this month.

Constant TV appearances

Virtually every minister has some form of regular appointment with one branch of their party’s media outlets or the other, with the state broadcaster playing a crucial role as well. One particularly egregious example of this was Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo’s appearance on TVM’s Friday night slot, with Bartolo gushing praise at Film Commissioner Johann Grech while promoting the Malta Film Commission itself.

                           
                               
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carlo
carlo
9 months ago

SHAME on who’s running the national (sic) broadcasting which is being paid by ALL Maltese.

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