Increased concern about the political independence of the media in Malta was among the issues highlighted in the annual report by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), which also praised The Shift’s transparency and independence in the national media landscape.
Published earlier this week, the annual report details the threats to media pluralism and freedom in EU member states and some candidate countries. It concludes that Malta’s political independence is at a higher risk than it was last year – increasing from 72% to 79% in one year. One of the main factors contributing to this spike is the increase in criticism of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
Other key problematic areas tied to political independence include political party-owned media, concerns over the lack of independence in the state broadcaster’s governance, funding and editorial independence.
“The conversation about party-owned media needs to be placed high on the agenda again, with clear and realistic targets; Additionally, it is being reiterated that a policy, with a set of clearly defined objectives, and a strategy outlining concrete goals, needs to be put forward for Public State Media (PSM), so as to restore, safeguard and strengthen their role as a trusted public service.”
This report was published amid news reports about the lack of transparency at PBS. On Wednesday, The Shift reported that the government’s silence in parliament on obligatory PBS reports about taxpayer-funded programmes is raising questions as to whether these reports exist at all.
Among European countries, Malta was ranked as ‘high risk’, together with Montenegro, Romania, Greece, Serbia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Albania. Only Turkey ranked as ‘Very High Risk’.
Report highlights media companies’ lack of transparency
The absence of transparent data pertaining to market shares of media companies, advertising revenue, as well as lack of information on print media circulation figures and online activity were listed as the main contributors to Malta’s ‘high risk’ score on market plurality.
The report praises The Shift’s policy of refusing advertising from political parties or government, as well as being the only newsroom to publish an account of annual earnings and expenditure. It also notes The Shift’s commitment to invest all earnings back into journalism. Blogger and activist Manuel Delia’s declarations were also noted.
“It is refreshing, as well as unusual for Malta, to see that news media organisations like The Shift News and blogger Manuel Delia have transparent procedures, and are committed to preserving their credibility by publishing their earnings… Additionally, The Shift News’ operating company, Tula Ltd., is committed, under its articles of association, to investing all earnings back into journalism,” the report says.
The report calls for the establishment of an independent media authority. “It is essential for media operators and regulators to have access to accurate, publicly available data that would inform decisions that need to be taken; As stated in previous reports, the establishment of a comprehensive and independent media authority, overseeing all platforms, set up with the input and participation of all stakeholders, would contribute towards improving the Maltese media landscape,” the report says.
Urgent need to address FOI requests in a timely and transparent manner
The report stresses that certain issues still “evidently need attention”, specifically referring to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and self-regulation of the profession.
“There is an urgent need for cooperation from government and its agencies in addressing FOI requests in a timely and transparent manner,” the report says.
The area of social inclusiveness also reported high-risk scores, more specifically in the areas of minority group representations, access to media for women, media literacy and protection against illegal and harmful speech.
Speaking at the conference on Thursday, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said that although the EU cannot do much in terms of litigation within member states, she was watching what member states’ actions in terms of media law and adherence to laws. She added that the Media Freedom Act was planned for adoption at the beginning of September.
Within this Act, “issues such as lack of transparency of the media, financing and ownership, will be addressed,” she said.
The country report for the Media Pluralism Monitor was compiled and written by Louiselle Vassallo from the University of Malta and reviewed by a group of national experts in the field.
You can see the full report here.