Government ministries are spending hundreds of thousands of euro of taxpayer money to create their own coverage of their activities, which is then sent to newsrooms instead of allowing journalists to attend in person, raising further concerns about the public right to unbiased information.
An investigation by The Shift based on data tabled in parliament found that since the COVID-19 pandemic, ministers have hired videographers and editors to film, edit, and package clips on their official activities to be sent to newsrooms, who broadcast it instead of their own coverage.
Nationalist Party MP Darren Carabott asked every minister to state whether they hired a videographer in 2023 and, if so, what were the costs.
While only a few ministers replied, their responses show that many have hired those who worked on their own personal campaigns.
Prime Minster Robert Abela hired his campaign photographer, Gareth Degiorgio, through a €31,200 annual contract.
Minister Ian Borg put his campaign photographer, Ray Attard, on a ‘consultancy’ contract while his real tasks centred around filming and photographing the minister.
Among the other ministers who replied, the Office of the Prime Minister, Health Ministry, Energy Ministry, Gozo Ministry, Inclusion Ministry, Finance Ministry, Housing Ministry and Education Ministry also admitted hiring videographers at a total cost of over €250,000 a year.
This is despite the existence of the Department of Information, which employs full-time photographers and videographers tasked with capturing government ministers during their official duties.
How does the system work?
An example of how the system works was given by Prime Minister Robert Abela last week.
The press was not invited to a tour of the building of a new primary school in Msida, a project which is some four years late.
Usually, through the Department of Information, accredited media are sent a daily calendar inviting journalists to ministerial activities the following day. This time, and increasingly on other occasions, Abela’s visit to the school was not announced to the media.
Accompanied by his videographer, Abela toured the school, met all those waiting for him during the pre-arranged visit, and gave comments to his videographer.
Following Abela’s departure from the site, newsrooms were sent footage of the visit, along with comments and a press release carried by most media, including the independent ones.
In this way, Abela acquired positive coverage of the event without journalists asking any questions.
The latest practice is just one aspect of how the government manipulates the media agenda.
Other aspects include the disbursement of hundreds of thousands of euro in advertising to friendly independent media, buying sponsored content, dishing out of state-sponsored PBS programmes and taxpayer funds to select media.