The government has handed out some €150,000 of public funds to Maltese print newspapers, including those owned by political parties, to help them cope with their deep financial and readership crisis.
At the same time, the government has failed to acknowledge the plight of independent digital newsrooms, including The Shift News, Lovin Malta, and Newsbook, shutting them out of every funding scheme despite having larger audiences than print newspapers, which are dying out.
This time, the dishing out of public funds came in the name of culture and the so-called ‘Newspaper Support Scheme’ was created and decided by the Arts Council, headed by veteran Labour insider Albert Marshall.
According to the publicly funded Council, “the scheme seeks to support and facilitate ways and means how to address the present challenges” of the print media in full “cognisance of the sector’s current situation with limited financial and human resources”.
The scheme offers funds to newspapers already producing cultural content without public funding.
He got an €18,163 grant for the cultural pages of Malta Today and Illum and another €15,000 for training journalists in investigative reporting in Maltese.
Newspaper owners in Malta do not publish their circulation numbers. Yet it is common knowledge that Balzan’s Maltese language newspaper sells under 1,000 copies a week. Malta Today’s print edition, like most other print newspapers, has low circulation numbers. Since there are no checks, figures dished out are regularly inflated.
Standard Publications, the owner of The Malta Independent, one of the lesser-read English language dailies on the island, was awarded €30,000 while Media.Link Communications, the Nationalist Party’s media arm that prints In-Nazzjon, also got €30,000.
Allied Newspapers, owners of The Times of Malta, currently in negative financial territory following its failed €30 million investment in a new printing facility amid claims of corruption and graft, was given more than €29,000.
The General Workers Union’s It-Torċa was given another €15,663.
Even Catholic Action’s subscription-based weekly, Leħen is-Sewwa, received a €14,435 grant.
As the popularity of print media continues to dip, government funds are being used regularly to save them from extinction.
Multiple tranches of grants have been handed out in recent years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more recently to cover the rising cost of printing.
Additionally, the government has used its advertising budget to direct public funds towards media that provides more favourable coverage of the ruling party, leaving critical or independent press out in the cold.
Lately, newspaper owners have also joined forces in an attempt to lobby for more state subsidies for their dying business.
Allied Newspapers (The Times of Malta), Media Today (Malta Today and Illum) and Standard Publications (The Malta Independent) joined forces with the media arms of the Labour and the Nationalist parties, to form a lobby group for more State funding.
The Association did not include or invite independent digital media organisations, which increasingly dent their audiences due to their no-strings-attached independent journalism.
The Institute of Maltese Journalists has already distanced itself from the new association.