High time Malta guarantees full independence of public service media – EFJ General Secretary

In a tweet calling out a number of countries including Malta, the General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, Ricardo Gutiérrez wrote that it is high time these countries “guarantee the full independence of public service media governance and funding in these countries”.

Gutiérrez was reinforcing a statement made by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Teresa Ribeiro, during the opening address of an expert meeting on the role of public service media in countering disinformation that acts as a timely reminder of the dire state of Malta’s own public service media.

In her statement, Ribeiro underscored how the independence of Public Service Media (PSM) is crucial to their existence and for their capability to counter disinformation, especially with the public turning away from legacy media. She however noted that a recent study by the Center for Media, Data and Society found that nearly 80% of the world’s state media lack editorial independence, a figure Ribeiro described as “shocking”. The same study classified Malta as “state-controlled”.

Accountable to the public that funds them

Ribeiro also describes that the first in a set of ideals that makes public service media invaluable is that “they are accountable to the public that funds them”.

This could not contrast more starkly with the Shift’s reports that Malta’s Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) has yet to publish its reports assessing whether it has fulfilled its public service obligations and detailing how it spends the money it receives.

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”.

The reports are there to “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,” said former PBS Chairman Clare Vassallo, who formed part of the board when the policy was introduced.

Questions sent by The Shift to the minister responsible for broadcasting Owen Bonnici, and PBS asking about the status of the reports were met with silence, despite reminders.

Repeatedly failing the public

The PBS assessment reports are not the only information that is currently being withheld from the public.

PBS has also defied orders issued by the Data Protection Commissioner to publish details, including names and payments, of the editorial board, as well as the contract of Executive Chairman Mark Sammut, which The Shift had requested through a Freedom of Information request.

Other instances that reinforce the conclusion that Malta’s public broadcaster is “state-controlled” and is ultimately failing the public include the revelation that €30 million would be allocated to PBS from public funds, spread over the next five years despite the company suffering heavy losses and a report of how a news item reporting disciplinary action against a water polo club official and well-known Labour activist was deleted shortly after it appeared, following instructions from the Office of the Prime Minister.

Examples of government interference with the public broadcaster also include a memo sent to producers working on current affairs shows airing on the national broadcaster’s channels to “obtain approval from the PBS management” before moving forward with topics for programmes.

Earlier this year, the Nationalist Party initiated court proceedings against PBS claiming its rights were breached by the public broadcaster after it took three months for the PBS to publish/air a right of reply sent in by the opposition and for placing the party’s political adverts in-between government ones. Worryingly, during the court proceedings, PBS executive chairman Mark Sammut, head of news Norma Saliba, minister Carmelo Abela and the broadcaster’s head of sales were all unable to answer questions about those decisions.

The glaring lack of impartiality in Malta’s State broadcaster was also noted, and condemned, by the three judges conducting the inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and whose recommendations for press freedom have yet to be implemented by the government.

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11 hours ago

Just a sec.
Europe is going to have it’s first freezing winter – because the US and Russia are at loggerheads over Ukraine.
Boris Johnson is still ‘somehow’ UK prime minister. Macron, on the other hand is attempting appeasement.
Yes – journalists are beholden to their paymasters. Obviously.
But the political/journalistic constant ear-worms become unbearable, nauseous and ultimately tiresome.

Last edited 11 hours ago by viv

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