Ombudsman concludes Film Commission’s abridged list ‘might have discouraged’ excluded producers

Exposé originally published by The Shift led to complaint filed by Malta Producers Association


The article has been updated to include a comment from the Malta Producers Association.

The Office of the Ombudsman published a report which concluded that an abridged list of local producers provided by the Malta Film Commission “might have discouraged” foreign productions from working with companies excluded from the list.

The Malta Producers Association filed a complaint in February 2020 following an article published by The Shift that revealed how the Malta Film Commission (MFC) provided foreign production companies with an abridged list containing just seven local producers, one of which was owned by former film commissioner Engelbert Grech.

No explanation was provided as to why this list was being used instead of a 2018 list of 22 local producers. The Malta Producers Association accused current film commissioner Johann Grech of committing “an intentional act of improper discrimination in favour of a select few”.

Following a two-year investigation which sought to determine whether discrimination occurred, the Office of the Ombudsman concluded that “Although a final decision about who to engage pertains to the enquiring producer, this Office cannot exclude that foreign producers provided with the abridged list by the Malta Film Commission, might have been discouraged from service providers not included therein”.

Another grievance raised by the complainant was related to an online directory meant to provide details of all local production companies.

The Malta Film Commission maintained that the online directory was delayed due to complications related to GDPR guidelines, which resulted in the directory being unavailable for two years. The Ombudsman established that when the directory was temporarily removed during a “revamping” process, the abridged list was used instead.

The complainant accused the Malta Film Commission of purposefully restricting access to the directory with a password provided by the Commission, with the intent of leaving foreign production houses no choice but to speak to the Commission directly.

When questioned about the alleged discrimination, the Film Commission claimed it did not make recommendations and only provided abridged lists according to the needs of the inquiring company. The Ombudsman’s conclusions do not support their version of events.

“The shortlist published in the media was in fact supplied to enquiring foreign producers,” the Ombudsman’s report said, “some of whom do not appear to have had any previous ongoing communication with the Malta Film Commission and/or made enquiries that were rather general in nature”, and  “There were also instances where recommendations of specific production companies were made.”

The Ombudsman further stated “it is indispensable” that the Commission and its officials do not, in any way, give local operators “an improper and undue advantage”.

Following its reintroduction in 2020, the online directory was no longer freely accessible to unauthenticated users, a feature the Ombudsman described as counter-productive to the Commission’s mandate to open up opportunities for all local producers in the industry.

When questioned about the rationale behind the system, MFC chairperson Beverly Cutajar claimed the database was made password-secure to protect industry stakeholders who “might not want to expose themselves”. The Office of the Ombudsman said this explanation “does not hold any water”.

In the press release announcing the publication of the report, finalised on 22 April, the Malta Producers Association said it was reacting to comments made by Film Commissioner Johann Grech in a 4 July interview on TVM programme Xtra Sajf.

Questions were sent to the association to clarify which specific comments they were reacting to, as well as why the report was only made publicly available more than two months after it was finalised.

In his comments on Xtra Sajf, Grech repeated several of the arguments he’d already made to the office of the Ombudsman, downplaying his role as Commissioner and claiming he has little to no influence on the process with which local and foreign producers are put in touch with each other.

“The document was not in our possession until 1 June. However, once the MPA executive committee received the report, the association immediately reached out to Minister Bartolo to discuss the findings in good faith. In addition, we circulated a copy of the report among our members for feedback,” the association said.

The Malta Producers Association further stated that it had hoped a meeting with the ministry would open up “meaningful dialogue” about the report itself and “several other issues” relating to the industry.

“The MPA has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to meet with the minister to resolve this issue. However, given the film commissioner’s comments yesterday, we felt there was no other choice than to make the report public,” it added.

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1 month ago

It is always simply unbelievable how here on MAFIA-Malta everyone is trying Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri, ROBBER Abela, … tries to outdo. 
Since THESE seem to have got away with it so far, there is also a lot of cheating and trickery.

From my personal point of view, we should get help for our police and judiciary from another European country very quickly and urgently, otherwise we will always have “people” like ROBBER Abela, who then physically run away from the press.

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