Standards Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi ruled that a 2022 sponsored social media video showing Prime Minister Robert Abela summarising an EU leaders’ meeting in Prague does not merit an investigation despite it “not conforming” with Standards Commission guidelines on advertising.
The 2021 guidelines consider sponsored social media posts as advertising and prohibit the inclusion of politicians’ names or faces to separate their state roles from those of political figures.
In his decision following a complaint by independent politician Arnold Cassola, Azzopardi claimed the video in question was not produced with promotional purposes in mind, so the Commission’s guidelines did not apply.
Additionally, Azzopardi said that since the information included in the video was of public interest and its promotional cost of €100 was “minimal”, “the interview should not be considered as a breach of ethics.”
In the video from October 2022, Abela summarised a leaders’ summit in Prague, which discussed the surge in energy prices at the time.
He discussed the government’s energy subsidies, claiming the “government’s strategic decision to absorb fuel and energy prices” meant the Maltese public would be “unaffected.”
In a reaction to the commissioner’s decision, Cassola raised concerns about the precedent such a decision sets, claiming it allows politicians to “spend public money to advertise their work since they are ‘informing’ about their work.”
“What is the use of having a publicly funded Department of Information if this can be substituted by paid adverts?” he asked.
Cassola raised further concerns about Azzopardi’s definition of “minimal” funds.
He questioned whether the commissioner’s decision meant it was “okay for politicians to use public money for 200 different adverts worth €100 each.”
“One also wonders at what [monetary] amount does using public money to publicise oneself in a single advert become a problem,” he concluded.
The Shift has previously reported on the abuse of public funds for political advertising by incumbent politicians.
Millions of euros of taxpayers’ funds have been spent on political propaganda by the Office of the Prime Minister, boosting the Labour Government’s ‘achievements’ such as the budget and supposed ‘progress’ in the public service.
Last year, the Energy Ministry had even contracted singer Ira Losco advertising the Ministry’s work and including mention of Energy Minister Miriam Dalli and Project Green CEO Steve Ellul in a clear breach of ethics guidelines.