A partisan 32-page newspaper supplement published by the Labour Party to commemorate Robert Abela’s first two years as Labour leader has cost taxpayers at least €20,000.
The supplement, published by Labour’s official weekly newspaper Kullħadd on 16 January, included 28 full page advertorials by 19 different government ministries and parliamentary secretariats, all forking out between €700 and €1,800 each in payments for partisan adverts in the publication.
The costs do not include booking fees and commissions, design, image and other costs subsidised by the public to celebrate Robert Abela’s second anniversary as prime minister in the midst of scandals rocking the government.
All Abela’s cabinet members contributed towards this ‘initiative’ except for three: Ministers Clayton Bartolo, Clyde Caruana and Evarist Bartolo.
On the other hand, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia and the Minister responsible for Senior Citizens, Michael Farrugia, went overboard, paying the Labour Party the most out of their ministerial budgets.
A series of parliamentary questions by PN MP Claudette Buttigieg was met with a coordinated reply by all the ministries playing down the issue and justifying the extravagance by stating that this initiative was similar to the ones carried previously by other private newspapers, such as The Times of Malta and Malta Today – these entities, they said, frequently approach the government for adverts.
The so-called “free supplement”, published by Kullħadd to celebrate the prime minister on his second year in office, included only one written article about the Labour Leader with the rest of the pages dedicated to pictures or government adverts.
Also, contrary to guidelines established by the Standards Commissioner, most of the adverts included pictures of Labour politicians blowing their own trumpet.
While the supplement can be described as nothing more than State-funded propaganda, a practice that is illegal, marketing experts told The Shift that even the cost of each advert paid to Kullħadd is inflated.
It is a known fact among local practitioners that the Labour Party’s weekly has a very low circulation and does not even sell a thousand copies per edition.
This means that even €700 paid through taxpayer funds for a one-page advertorial in Kullħadd, according to information presented in parliament this week, is beyond current market prices.
As print media is on a massive decline globally, all local major newspapers are struggling to make ends meet. The government has been increasing its influence on the independent media, in an attempt to control their income through advertising and sponsored content.
The Shift is battling 30 appeals by the government against a decision by the data protection commissioner to grant information on contracts signed with the owner of an independent media house, Saviour Balzan’s companies offering PR services to the government.
The Shift is the only media organisation in Malta that refuses to take any adverts from the government or any political organisation.