Balanced broadcasting

Concrete reforms at the Broadcasting Authority should see the inclusion of members from civil society and all political parties.

26 May 2017, 7:57am
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Television remains the primary source of information for many in Malta and abroad. A recent study carried out in the US shows that, the majority of people, especially the older generations rely on television as their main source of news.

Although the younger generations opt for digital news sources, television remains more popular than printed media among all ages. 

Malta is no different, television remains hugely popular and the vast majority of people are glued to their screens during electoral campaigns. 

Pluralism did not have the desired effect as this has resulted in a lack of quality in Maltese broadcasting. 

And given our peculiar situation where political parties own television stations and the national broadcaster is in complete control of government, information comes in either a red or blue tinge.

The political broadcasts organised by the Broadcasting Authority during electoral campaigns are the only space available for smaller parties who do not possess media empires. 

However, this year the authority has excluded Alternattiva Demokratika and all other smaller parties from TV debates during the electoral campaign.  

On the other hand, Labour and the PN have been granted four debates between them and a press conference each.

Alternattiva Demokratika Chairperson Arnold Cassola justly remarked that the Broadcasting Authority “is there only to accommodate the two bigger parties” despite the fact that they already own media empires that transmit political propaganda 24 hours a day.

Cassola also bemoaned the fact that the Broadcasting Authority has lost “all sense of dignity,” and was denying the electorate the right to listen to and compare the

different views of the different parties.

AD has only been granted 20 minutes of spots while smaller parties such as Allenza Bidla and the far-right party Moviment Patrijotti Maltin even less. 

This reaffirms the need for a complete overhaul, not only of the Broadcasting Authority but also of the national broadcaster PBS. 

This newspaper has long campaigned for national broadcasting to be reformed radically and to start being looked at as a unifying national force. 

Appointing the chairman of the Broadcasting Authority by a two-thirds majority in Parliament is not enough. Both the authority and PBS should be more inclusive and representative of Maltese society.  

For this to happen, the system needs a drastic shake up. The most urgent reform concerns the participation of party representatives on the broadcasting authority or in influential positions at PBS. The firm hold of the national service in the hands of both political parties has to end, once and for all. The service must place people, and not the parties, as the centre of focus. 

Composition of the editorial board should also no longer be the sole choice of the minister, whose ministry should be kept at arm’s length from the day-to-day running of the national broadcasting service. 

Ideally, a system must be found whereby a board of governors runs PBS autonomously accountable to parliament, and not to a minister.

Concrete reforms at the Broadcasting Authority should see the inclusion of members from civil society and all political parties. 

The present composition of two representatives chosen from each political party represented in parliament is anachronistic and absurd, as the person to be controlled has representation on the regulating body. 

This will guarantee the end of the mainstream parties’ hold on broadcasting and a more inclusive and representative PBS, especially when it comes to informing the public and giving a voice to smaller parties during electoral campaigns.