The management at Malta’s public broadcaster (PBS) has filed a complaint with the police against Repubblika President Robert Aquilina after he held a press conference in front of PBS studios on Friday.
In a statement published on social media, Aquilina described how he was summoned to the Ħamrun police station and questioned about a report made against him by the management of PBS. Aquilina was not informed about the details within the report, only that it was related to the press conference.
“In the statement, I gave to the police, I said that I consider the report made by PBS and the police’s decision to interrogate me as acts of intimidation by the Maltese State and as a threat to freedom of expression and the right to association. What happened today is unacceptable in any society that calls itself democratic”, Aquilina wrote.
On 29 September, Repubblika held a press conference in front of PBS studios before the launch of PBS’s new programming schedule. Aquilina said the public “has no information on the new schedule, as contrary to established practice, PBS has not yet published it.”
Aquilina also claimed that the news on PBS lacked impartiality and said, “Repubblika was not invited to share its opinions on the national broadcaster – ever,” and listed a series of protests, legal actions and statements by the group which were “systematically censored”.
The Repubblika president stood in front of a banner reading “censorship” and said, “PBS is obliged to support political debate” in the country, calling for a proper “space for our opinions to be broadcast” and for higher quality programming involving investigative reporting and a balanced discussion of current events.
The public broadcaster’s new schedule was launched with PBS lacking a head of news, leading Repubblika to call for any new head of news “to be accepted only following a public call for applications and not dictated by some minister or by Prime Minister Robert Abela”.
“The selection process should be transparent and meritocratic,” Aquilina said. “The person should be competent, serving both TVM’s audience and the Maltese at large”.
The Shift reported how the resignation of PBS’ last Head of News, Norma Saliba, directly resulted from a fallout with the politically appointed PBS Executive Chairman Mark Sammut, who enjoys the backing of the prime minister.
Reacting to Aquilina’s questioning by the police, Maltese MEP David Casa stated, “Had the institutions not been wholly captured, the police would have already dragged the PBS Chairman to the police station over his role in the licensing scandal. Instead, the same chairman sent the police to an NGO simply doing its job. We have reached a new low. The rule of law has never been so threatened. And we will all have to make a significant effort to pull our country back from the brink.”
Similarly, Nationalist MP Graham Bencini also issued a public statement saying that “The Nationalist Party feels that this bullying behaviour is not acceptable and expresses its concern for the fact that the leadership at PBS seems to have learned nothing from the court’s sentencing that found PBS had discriminated against the Nationalist Party”.
Last July saw a scathing court ruling against the Broadcasting Authority, PBS and Minister Owen Bonnici when the Constitutional Court confirmed a July 2022 judgement that found PBS broadcasting during the 2022 general elections unconstitutional and partisan.
In its judgement, the court described how PBS failed to maintain impartiality in its reporting on politics and policies, ignoring the Broadcasting Authority’s notices. The court also stated that the Broadcasting Authority failed to act on PBS’s disregard.
The court ruled PBS and the Broadcasting Authority breached Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with freedom of expression, and Article 45 of the Maltese Constitution, which concerns protection from discrimination – in this case, based on political opinion.