31 May, 2018 / By Ema Sabljak, The Shift
The problem of State ownership of public broadcasters in Malta becomes more apparent when compared to ownership across Europe.
Public broadcasting is not uncommon, but there is a very distinctive difference between public ownership and State ownership that may not be made clear. Once ownership treads into an editorial domain in addition to financial control, it becomes a far more problematic issue.
State control of the media is a rare occurrence in Europe, most of the press in Europe is private or at least free of editorial influence from the government. That fact is not surprising considering the EU has long set a goal of becoming “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.”
In order to foster that competition, pluralism of the media is necessary. It is pluralism which ensures unbiased information as it allows for analysis from both sides ideally creating constructive discourse. But that is definitely treated as an ideal, and it is far from the reality in Malta.
Reports from the European Union about media pluralism demonstrated that the majority of Maltese people did not believe that the Broadcasting Authority was free from political and governmental pressures. If the average viewer does not believe that the body which overviews all broadcasting is impartial, it is hard to believe that such a body provides satisfactory pluralistic views.
Whilst viewed only as a suggestion in Malta, in the European Union pluralism is held in higher regard than just as an idealistic notion. It is in fact prescribed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU, stating the “freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”.
By this European narrative it is to be understood that pluralism cannot be achieved by State ownership. After all State ownership can hardly be pluralistic as the the government will strive to make their word final, defeating the purpose of other sources. The strength of their words is enforced by the statistic which shows that 64.7% of Maltese people follow at least one TV station.
It is for that reason that the Council of Europe recommends “institutional autonomy” in matters revolving the editing and presentation of news and current affairs programmes. However it is clear that this is just taken as loose and negligible advice in Malta.
As public service broadcasting reveals its true face as State broadcasting, editorial independence is the first thing that should be ensured. If editorial independence is withdrawn the media can hardly be called free.
The investigation by The Shift News showed that there were noticeably less reports of corruption coming from State-owned broadcasters. That is clear indication that politicians have power over editorial choices that naturally separated from them. However clearly their is no hesitation in using that power to their own benefit.
The Broadcasting Authority, which supervises all broadcasting media in Malta, even blatantly allows for the government to have editorial control of media corporations. While constitutionally the task of the BA is to ensure that broadcasting services remain impartial, clearly that definition of impartiality is warped.
Looking into the recent report by TVM of the second Daphne project report that is evident. Not only is the article too brief to reveal the quantity of work achieved by 45 journalists representing 18 organisations, the majority of the article is made up of denying the claims. There is not even a pretence of impartiality there.
The reality of public broadcasting in Malta reflects a gap between the country and the EU, which serves to no one’s benefit but the government’s.
This is part of a series of articles investigating the state of the media in Malta