Opinion: salami slicing

There isn’t a single moment when a particular administration crosses the line into authoritarianism.  Instead, there are many little steps that gradually but steadily erode democracy.

That argument was made by Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their now-famous book ‘How Democracies die’.

As Malta examines itself on the eve of European parliamentary elections, it cannot fail to realise that we’re closer to Mintoff’s and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s 1980s than ever before.

PBS, the national broadcaster, sounds increasingly like Xandir Malta. In a country where the majority still get their news from TVM or ONE, Labour’s absolute control of the national broadcaster is a powerful weapon.

When even the Pope gets censored by TVM for daring to mention corruption, Labour has its mind at rest that another victory is in the bag.

If you dozed off, you might have just woken up to find out that we’re back in the days of “Run Rabbit Run”, the puerile mockery of then-Leader of the Opposition Eddie Fenech Adami.

Xandir Malta regularly played the Labour Party anthem with images of Labour’s Torċa on a loop. Labour has been steadily slicing away ever thicker slices of our salami.

Labour started hijacking the national broadcaster the minute it gained power. Over the last decade, it’s been marching towards total capture, but those steps were too small to provoke a reaction.

There was never a sudden or dramatic assault that might have elicited some response. But now that the line is crossed, it’s too late.

Most haven’t yet realised that TVM is just a partisan mouthpiece for Labour.  Those who have simply accepted it are resigned to the fact that that’s what Labour always does.

Almost a decade to the day since Labour returned to power, the constitutional court confirmed that both PBS and the Broadcasting authority failed to ensure impartiality or protect against discrimination based on political affiliation. The court found PBS “manifestly and flagrantly breached its obligations”.

The court decreed that PBS’s behaviour “amounted to a manifest lack of respect towards democracy and the rule of law.”

Labour has transformed PBS into an anti-democratic criminal organisation—one that breaks the law, is publicly chastised by the Constitutional Court, yet persists in its relentless propaganda to consolidate Labour’s iron grip on power.

On the day the new president was sworn in, TVM chose three former Labour Ministers to sit on the panel of commentators  – the embittered Helena Dalli, Karmenu Vella, Mintoff’s Minister of Public Works, and Alex Sceberras Trigona, Mintoff’s Foreign Affairs Minister.

PBS has eaten all our sausage, slice by slice – and we haven’t even noticed.

We’ve reached the stage where TVM reproduces what Prime Minister Robert Abela says in parliament but not a word of what the Leader of the Opposition says. After a parliamentary debate on climate change, PBS broadcast a clip of Abela’s speech but none of Grech’s.

We’re truly back to the 80s when the Opposition Leader’s name was never mentioned on Xandir Malta.  The irony is that for its manifest partisanship, PBS was fined the meagre sum of €930.

That’s hardly a disincentive, especially when the taxpayer pays that fine, the very target of TVM’s deceitful Labour propaganda.

And that’s not the worst PBS has been up to.  In February, TVM reported that Bernard Grech said the exact opposite of what he had stated. TVM reported that “the PN Leader said that climate change is an obstacle to economic growth”. In fact, Grech stated that the Opposition sees climate action as an opportunity.

TVM is resorting to Xandir Malta’s tactics – it either completely ignores the Opposition Leader or pretends he doesn’t exist.

When it does report his speeches, it distorts them so completely that even Speaker Anglu Farrugia condemned TVM and ordered the national broadcaster to correct the title of its news report.

Even the Broadcasting Authority, heavily skewed in Labour’s favour, was compelled to condemn PBS for its pro-government news bulletins. Between April 2023 and February 2024, TVM carried 351 interviews with Labour ministers and MPs.

During the same period TVM broadcast just 27 interviews with PN MPs. TVM is giving Labour 13 times more exposure than PN. No free and fair election can take place in such a climate.

That wasn’t the first damning ruling against TVM.  In a previous decision the Broadcasting Authority found TVM discriminated against the Opposition party three times in just five days.

It wasn’t just discrimination – it was complete throttling of the Opposition’s voice. TVM gave government ministers plenty of airtime and none to the Opposition.

When public anger and vociferous criticism were voiced over the work on a Senglea belvedere, TVM published a news bulletin promoting and praising the work being carried out.

TVM brazenly pumped propaganda to defuse the public’s anger at Labour over the works.  No mention of the public’s rage was made in TVM’s report.

Labour’s mind is at rest. It knows it has absolute control over the national broadcaster. Robert Abela handpicked Mark Sammut, a man with little to no experience in broadcasting, as PBS CEO.

Not only is Sammut paid €100,000 annually, but he also takes home another €26,000 for chairing the company’s board – an event that occurs only three times a year.

He’s also being paid for his government-appointed role as Malta MedAir chairman. His personal private company, Cursor Ltd, received a direct order for €136,000 euros from the Lands Authority.

Sammut’s other company, Mall Systems Ltd, received several direct orders from the Health Ministry.

If you need further proof that PBS has been transformed into Xandir Malta, look at who Labour appointed to PBS’ board of directors –  the octagenarian Norman Hamilton, a man who was investigated over claimed mismanagement at Xandir Malta during the 1980s; Albert Marshall, the former ONE CEO; Ray Calleja ONE TV show host and former GWU official Jeremy Camilleri.

Labour has truly sliced that national salami away.

                           

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D M Briffa
D M Briffa
1 month ago

How can the Opposition get across the message that TVM is a government propaganda machine? Speaking personally, I avoid Maltese TV entirely. I get trusted news from The Shift, Times of Malta and Mark Camilleri. For entertainment, Netflix and YouTube totally smash anything produced locally.

Philip Micallef
Philip Micallef
1 month ago

Broadcasting should ‘enrich individuals with knowledge, culture and information about their world, to build more cohesive communities, to engage the people of the country and the whole globe in a new conversation about who we are and where we are going …put to work to the sole benefit of the public.’ (Building Public Value, BBC 2003)

Last edited 1 month ago by Philip Micallef

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