Questions raised about whether PBS has filed reports showing how it spent taxpayers’ cash

Report “tells public where their money is being spent… for a service that is supposed to serve the public.” - Former PBS Chairman

 

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is obliged to submit annual reports assessing whether it has fulfilled its public service obligations and detailing how it spent the public money it receives, however questions raised in Parliament are now causing doubt over whether the reports have been filed at all over the past few years.

In a parliamentary question on Monday, the Shadow Minister for Broadcasting, Graham Bencini, asked Broadcasting Minister Owen Bonnici to table in Parliament the annual reports supposedly submitted by the Authority between 2016 and today. Bonnici failed to table the reports, saying that the requested information is still in the process of being collected.

The obligatory reports in question are part of the National Broadcasting Policy introduced in 2004, which states that it is the responsibility of PBS’ editorial board “to annually present, through the Board of Directors, a report to Government giving its assessment of the way the schedules of the stations run by the PBS stations are fulfilling their public service obligation”.

Excerpt from the National Broadcasting Policy stating the obligation for the annual report to be submitted.

Former PBS Chairman Clare Vassallo, who formed part of the board when the policy was introduced, told The Shift that such a report is “very important” as it assesses whether taxpayer money given to PBS is “accounted for”. The reports “tell the public where their money is being spent in their own interest and out of their own taxes, for a service that is supposed to serve the public. It is in the remit of the station, as a public broadcaster, to carry out its duty in the public interest,” she said.

Scrutiny of whether the Public Broadcasting Service is fulfilling their obligations towards the public comes at a time when the extent of state capture of the public broadcaster is being seriously questioned, especially since Labour sympathiser Norma Saliba became the station’s Head of News.

In April 2021, The Shift also revealed that Pablo Micallef, a director on the PBS Board, was leading several of Labour’s propaganda efforts outside PBS, despite the national broadcaster’s duty of impartiality.

In September, a study by the Center for Media, Data and Society classified PBS as “state-controlled”. The glaring lack of impartiality in the state broadcaster was also noted, and condemned, by the three judges conducting the inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

‘Imperative that public funds benefit public’ – Broadcasting Shadow Minister

Speaking to The Shift, Bencini explained that PBS programmes are divided into three categories : Commercial, Core Public Service Obligation (CPSO) and Extended Public Service Obligation (EPSO).

While the CPSO programmes are mainly the news bulletins and some programmes that PBS is legally obliged to broadcast, the EPSO programmes cover a wide range of programmes that include, among others, drama in Maltese, discussion programmes, religious programmes, informative programmes and children’s programmes. Public funds can only be used on programmes which fall under the EPSO category.

“This is why it is important that these specific reports are filed to the government. Because we are talking about the manner in which public funds are being used. It is imperative that such public funds are used in a manner which is for the benefit of the public, on programmes which the public at large benefits from,” Bencini told The Shift.

“The National Broadcasting Policy describes the Editorial Board as the conscience of the company. It should see to it that the public service remit is fulfilled well and it should advise government when this is not happening,” he added.

In 2020, the government had announced that it will be investing €30 million in such programmes over a span of five years, averaging €6 million in taxpayers’ money per annum. When the sum of the funding was announced, former broadcasting minister Carmelo Abela had boasted that such an amount was double that allocated by the previous administration.

The Shift has sent questions regarding the status of the reports to Bonnici and PBS.

                           
                               
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viv
viv
1 day ago

Some forms of journalism have ventured so far upstream as to resemble the thoughts and ‘unsound ethics’ of Coppola’s Walter Kurtz. Quite clearly.

Last edited 1 day ago by viv
Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
1 day ago

Carmelo Abela, former Minister, is always obsessed in comparing expenditure on the PBS, under this government with that spent by the PN government of 10 years ago. Great memory in this respect, yet his memory gets blank whenever his name is somehow associated with the failed HSBC bank heist, when he was a bank manager at the same bank.
Carmelo Abela – what is crucial is not the amount, but the value for money for the expense.
In the case of the bank heist, the value for money was aborted, but the traumatic value for the police officers against whom a substantantial amount of live shots were made, will be everlasting, and their memory will never go blank.

Francis Said
Francis Said
22 hours ago

And one of the persons who was directly involved and shot at the police, was given a pardon!!!!!
Well done to the Attorney General.
Also, it is unacceptable that a state run entity does not abide by the law and submit the detailed expenses since 2016. This government of sorts thinks that taxpayers’ funds are there to use, without the need to give specific details of who, how and why are millions being spent on gross inefficiency.

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