PBS using millions of public funds irregularly, two-year FOI battle reveals

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that PBS is irregularly using millions of state subsidies to fund its newsroom, even though the National Broadcasting Authority prohibits this.

For two years, The Shift has been asking questions about how PBS is using the €6.5 million in annual funding it receives, and Chairman Mark Sammut has done everything in his power to hide the information.

It reveals that PBS has been abusing millions of public funds, irregularly using state subsidies. PBS management allocated some €1.1 million to the TVM newsroom to produce its daily news bulletins, which is clearly prohibited, according to the National Broadcasting Policy.

The law states, “government will not be directly subsidising these (news) transmissions, and PBS is expected to cover related costs from advertising revenue”.

PBS spent €1.1 million on its news programme when it was obliged to cover the costs through advertising.

Public funding of PBS is meant to go towards programmes that are not commercially viable, such as culture and education programmes. TVM news is the most popular slot and easily attracts advertising.

A year after spending €1.1 million on its news programme, regularly criticised by monitoring bodies for its lack of impartiality and adherence to its public service obligation, in 2021, PBS claimed another million in state funds for transmitting ‘Euro News’—mainly used as a filler between local programming transmissions. This also goes against the rules.

The National Broadcasting Policy, which dictates how PBS should use some €6.5 million in annual subsidies – better known as a Public Service Obligation (PSO) – dictates that news bulletins should be free from government subsidies to be as independent as possible from government interventions to control the agenda.

International media monitors have regularly called out PBS for its propaganda.

According to the National Broadcasting Policy PBS cannot use public funds to produce news bulletins.

There has been no transparency or accountability on how PBS is using the €6.5 million injection of public funds as obligatory audit reports remain unpublished.

PBS chairman Mark Sammut did not reply to questions when asked for an explanation.

Although Sammut has no experience in broadcasting, Prime Minister Robert Abela chose him for the role. He is criticised for not consulting on decisions.

The Shift has revealed that Sammut rarely convenes the government-appointed board of directors and continually ignores the broadcaster’s editorial board.

PBS Minister Owen Bonnici and PBS Chairman Mark Sammut.

At the same time, he keeps paying himself two separate salaries, one as CEO and the other as chairman.

The Shift consulted several broadcasting experts on the information acquired on the use of PBS funds. They said it was completely irregular and would get PBS in serious trouble if challenged at the EU state aid level.

“Traditionally, the 8pm news is the most followed slot on national TV and is the main breadwinner for the state broadcaster in terms of advertising. That is why there is no need for subsidies,” one broadcasting veteran said.

“Although this is only theory, as in practice the news on TVM is just a government notice board, state funds were deemed irregular for the news to maintain some form of editorial distance from the government of the day,”  he added.

Despite PBS receiving millions in state subsidies, both through the PSO and through direct advertising by the government, it is still losing money mainly due to overstaffing and mismanagement.

Most of the €6.5 million in annual PSO funding is allocated to ‘friendly’ media producers and ‘journalists’.

While popular current affairs programmes were axed, time slots have been diverted to spin doctors, particularly Labour propagandists Saviour Balzan and former Labour Mayor Quinton Scerri, who received tens of thousands of euro for poor-quality content with low ratings.

                           

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7 Comments
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Joseph
Joseph
23 days ago

I’m sure now he’ll resign with immediate effect along with the minister! Anyone still think it’s not a Mafia country?

Last edited 23 days ago by Joseph
Mick
Mick
23 days ago

The only country in the world where the Mafia has complete control of a broadcasting / communication system, apart from Russia, Belarus, and North Korea.

Betta Ellul
Betta Ellul
23 days ago

It said that it was completely irregular and would get PBS into trouble, if challenged at EU state aid level… Well let’s hope that the EU do something about this. PBS get away with enough as it is.

Lawrence Mifsud
Lawrence Mifsud
22 days ago
Reply to  Betta Ellul

The EU will do nothing unless it gets a request to investigate the now published facts: and that will be after all local remedies are taken up. Or am I wrong?

Maria C. Xuereb
Maria C. Xuereb
23 days ago

Pbs people loved their own voice by prolonged questions and say not enough time for qualified answeres from guests.

Austin Sammut
Austin Sammut
22 days ago

So in effect we tax payers are paying for Labour propaganda

Jane
Jane
22 days ago

PBS wouldn’t answer when asked where it got it’s ‘facts’ from in a particular story. Not surprising with Abela’s influence provably embedded.

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