Norma Saliba’s resignation as head of news at the state broadcaster was the direct result of a fallout with the politically-appointed PBS Executive Chairman Mark Sammut, who found the backing of Prime Minister Robert Abela.
While the former Labour reporter who was made PBS Head of News in 2020 cited “personal reasons” for her resignation, sources at PBS told The Shift that Saliba’s departure had been long coming and resulted from an acrimonious clash with Sammut.
In fact, Sammut had already given Saliba several disciplinary warnings over the past months, mainly in relation to insubordination, and her departure was part of a long-drawn power struggle between the two.
Both Sammut and Saliba were appointed directly by Prime Minister Robert Abela to their PBS posts.
“The Sammut-Saliba tandem was not working well and both political appointees were clashing to gain Castille’s favouritism,” the sources said.
“Following intense lobbying from both, it is clear that Robert Abela has taken Sammut’s side and Saliba had to make way,” the source said.
According to insiders, Saliba deliberately ignored Sammut’s instructions on many occasions – including about who would accompany the Prime Minister on overseas trips and newscasting policy.
It is known in government circles that Saliba is now lobbying the Prime Minister for another position and an overseas posting in Brussels is not being excluded.
Made PBS head of news in August 2020 a few months after Abela became Prime Minister, Saliba’s steering of the state broadcaster’s newsroom was heavily criticised locally and internationally for its pro-government bias.
While PBS has been considered pro-government under every administration, Saliba’s gatekeeping was seen to have gone a notch further in favour of Labour and the Broadcasting Authority admonished PBS on many occasions for bias.
Even a speech the Pope gave during a historic visit to Malta that mildly criticised the current administration’s handling of migration issues was censored by Saliba’s newsroom.
Saliba, who started her broadcasting career with Labour’s ONE TV, was first placed on the state broadcaster’s payroll during a Nationalist administration when her partner, Manuel Micallef – later ONE TV’s head of news – was the General Workers’ Union’s official responsible for PBS workers.
Saliba had begun intense lobbying for the top PBS newsroom post as soon as Joseph Muscat, who was a witness at her wedding, was elected Prime Minister.
Reno Bugeja, however, landed the job and Saliba was seconded to the Office of the President to be George Vella’s spokesperson while continuing to lobby for the post.
Those efforts proved fruitful and soon after her return to PBS and Robert Abela’s assumption of power at Castille, Saliba was appointed head of news in 2020 on the Office of the Prime Minister’s direct order.
Abela positioned Mark Sammut as PBS chairman in April 2021 even though he had never worked in broadcasting. While he rarely convenes the PBS board and is widely considered an autocrat, The Shift recently revealed how he is being paid twice for the same job – once as CEO and again as chairman of the board. He is also serving as Chairman of another government entity – Malta Med Air and is a regular recipient of direct orders through his private IT businesses.