Gozo Ministry direct order for Saviour Balzan smacks of political propaganda

More behind-the-scenes pre-electoral machinations put into play by the incumbent Labour Party and footed by the taxpayer have been revealed by a Gozo Ministry direct order awarded to independent mainstream news outlet MediaToday’s owner Saviour Balzan in the direct lead-up to the March 2022 general elections.

It demonstrates yet another instance of how the government led by Prime Minister Robert Abela – who assumed office in the wake of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat – pulled out all the stops and made liberal use of the state coffers to achieve individual politicians’ electoral goals.

A list of direct orders issued by the Gozo Ministry published in the Government Gazette shows a direct order issued by the Gozo Ministry on 15 January 2022 – just under two months before the last general elections – to the Balzan-owned Pelagicus Media.

The government has already been criticised by international institutions for using advertising revenue to control narratives in the limited independent media in the country.

The direct order, which tops several contracts between Balzan and different ministries, is over €1 million in revenue already given to Balzan’s companies, while the government has launched 40 cases against The Shift to stop total exposure of Balzan’s workings with the government.

The latest deal announced in the Government Gazette was for the production of four videos on the work done in Gozo since Minister Clint Camilleri took over the ministry two years earlier, plus an “interview with the Minister of Gozo with emphasis on work projects and concerns of Gozitans”.

The direct order smacks of pure political propaganda for Minister Camilleri’s re-election bid, with the bill being footed by taxpayers.

Registered in 2021, Pelagicus Media Ltd is wholly owned by Saviour Balzan, and its offices are registered at the same San Gwann address as his newspapers Malta Today and Illum.

The company is used by Balzan to produce several television programmes on state broadcaster TVM. These include his weekly current affairs show ‘XTRA’, as well as other programmes.

Minister Clint Camilleri, who awarded Balzan the self-promotional direct order, has been featured on Balzan’s state-funded television shows a number of times.

The Gozo Ministry paid €5,030 for the direct order intended to give Minister Camilleri visual and political mileage in the run-up to the general elections.

The Gozo Ministry’s pre-electoral direct order for the promotion of the minister was awarded to Balzan’s Pelagicus Media Ltd.

TVM presenters are precluded – contractually and by Public Broadcasting Services’ editorial guidelines – from supplying government entities with public relations services. But PBS’ editorial board has overlooked this and many of Balzan’s other activities that have placed him in breach of public television presenters’ rules.

These include Balzan’s consultancies for several other ministers, including Ian Borg and Edward Zammit Lewis, as well as government agencies.

Payments from state coffers directed to Balzan’s companies and newspapers are estimated to run into additional hundreds of thousands of euros, but the government is fighting tooth and nail to stop the disclosure of those payments.

The Gozo Minister’s contracting of promotional services may be comparatively small, but it is symptomatic of the government’s general spending frenzy in anticipation of the looming elections and an example of its relations with the limited number of independent newsrooms in the country.

Figures published by the National Statistics Office (NSO) show how the government spent €191 million more in March 2022, the election month, than it had in the previous year – €641 million compared to €450 million in March 2021.

The most significant increase in the country’s spending that month related to ‘Programmes and Initiatives’ – a term that includes the cheques distributed to the electorate just a week before the general elections.

That particular vote-buying initiative cost a total of €74 million in both ‘economic stimulus’ and ‘tax refunds’ cheques, according to the NSO.

Former justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis and Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia (former environment minister) are two other cases in point. They alone issued more than 120 direct orders worth over €2 million, in 2021, according to an analysis by The Shift.

The expenditure included media buying, public relations and human resources services – a roundabout way of putting canvassers and prospective voters on the public payroll in the run-up to the general elections.

                           
                           
                               
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Greed
Greed
15 days ago

I hardly think they deserve a title of independant media as they are far from that?

Out of Curiosity
Out of Curiosity
15 days ago

Balzan is a mercenary and an unscrupulous businessman whose main interest is not that to be loyal to his readers by providing them with critical insights but to accomodate those in power instead, who after all are unscrupulous like him, and desperate to remain in power at all cost. Unfortunately, this is one of the major pitfalls of western democracies, where those in power take the upper hand to use all possible government resources to their advantage,

Carmelo Borg
15 days ago

Ghara VERA WICCHOM I SORM…. xorta. Hallas poplu GAHAN MEQ MEQ
.

John C.
John C.
14 days ago

Basta nibqghu hemm immexxu l-Ministeru t’ Ghawdex halli jien u l-erbgha ta’ madwari nibqghu ngawdu u ngorru. Imma bi flus in-nies biss ta’. Ara ma tonfqux xi Euro min tieghi ghax niksruha. Inkella ma ngammax bizzejjed sa’ l-elezzjoni li jmiss

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