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Mark Camilleri

Worst of times for public broadcasting

With a public broadcaster in shambles and cultural institutions under the management of incompetent people, V18 will come and go and will leave no tangible heritage

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Mark Camilleri
8 August 2017, 7:30am
Carmelo Borg Pisani, the Maltese fascist who renounced his British citizenship to enrol with the Italian fascist army and carry out a clandestine operation in Malta, will be the subject of a film financed by PBS
Carmelo Borg Pisani, the Maltese fascist who renounced his British citizenship to enrol with the Italian fascist army and carry out a clandestine operation in Malta, will be the subject of a film financed by PBS
Recently, a film producer who was awarded a PBS and Arts Council grant of €100,000 to produce a dramatic film about Carmelo Borg Pisani, went on record saying that we need to tell the story of Carmelo Borg Pisani with an “open mind”. The film producer will be using public funds to create a dramatic film on Borg Pisani based on a poorly-researched book by Laurence Mizzi, which portrays Borg Pisani as an admirable person with views too romantic to be dangerous.  

In the 1940s, as Jews, Russians and Europeans alike were forced into a war not of their own making by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the victims of war did not have the privilege to think about Nazis and Fascists with an open mind. With Europe under the yoke of Nazi Germany and its fascist allies, Jews were faced with genocide on an industrial scale and Western Russians had to fight against the threat of military annihilation. Historical revisionism cannot be more grating and objectionable as when it attempts to relieve the guilt from perpetrators of some of the most horrible crimes in history.

It is beyond shameful and outrageous that the Arts Council and PBS should award such a coveted grant to a project of historical revisionism. Borg Pisani was a fascist and a traitor whose decision to spy on Malta for the Italians during the height of the Second World War was taken on by him in full conviction of his perverse and fascist beliefs. The facts are well known and presenting them otherwise for the sake of being “open minded” is outright dishonesty. In PBS’s statement, made by the chairman of the adjudication board which awarded the grant, Tony Cassar Darien, not even once was it mentioned that Borg Pisani was a fascist.

These are indeed the worst of times for public broadcasting in Malta. From the Kim Kardashian Reality-TV clone show of Benjamin Camilleri (apparently, Ben Camille as he describes himself), to prime time Xarabank waging outright war on the education system, and publicly-funded films revising the history of noted fascists and convicted traitors, PBS has reached a level of decadence unprecedented even by our abysmal standards. Yet, the Minister of Culture, Owen Bonnici, seems unperturbed by all this. He seems to share those same populist views that Peppi Azzopardi of Xarabank fame publicly espouses: since we have freedom of speech anything may go on the public broadcaster.

The point of having a public broadcaster is to provide citizens with a service of news, information, education and culture. A public broadcaster should not be used with the sole aim of entertaining the masses, and such kind of thinking is so perverse that it may theoretically justify the broadcasting of hardcore pornography. The populist views upheld by Peppi Azzopardi and his likes are actually in tune with the idea of public broadcasting under dictatorships. It is under dictatorships that public broadcasting is used to broadcast safe and brainless entertainment, shallow programming with little or no relevant information at all, puerile and insular political debates, and dramatic art with a revisionist agenda. Here in Malta we have a public broadcaster which would make a tin-pot South East Asian dictator proud.

The malaise afflicting the public broadcaster is no different from the blight that has befallen the Arts Council and the Valletta 18 Foundation. The motivation underpinning their allocation of funds does not seem to emerge from an informed vision. Decisions are not being made on the basis of sound educational and cultural principles, but simply on the need to support the vanity projects of friends and allies of politicians and officials in power. And this is why incompetent people are being appointed to high positions within important State institutions by the Ministry of Culture or by the appointees of the minister.

Take for example the adjudication board which granted the money to produce the Carmelo Borg Pisani film. It was composed of Audrey Harrison, an ex-MEPA employee who was then employed at the Film Commission by the Labour government and who appears on IMDB as an actress in one feature film; Anthony Attard, who is the executive director of the Arts Council and has background in theatre; and a priest called Joseph Henry Abela, who apparently has published a book on how people should live their lives. The chairman of the adjudication board, Tony Cassar Darien, is a playwright who writes slapstick drama, the kind you would see and read without needing the help of any grey matter to digest it. Basically, no one on the adjudication board knows jack about cinema and history and yet these people had the authority to grant the €100,000 fund. Insane.

All this is happening as we are heading toward the year when Valletta will be honoured with the title of Capital City of Culture. With a public broadcaster in shambles and cultural institutions under the management of incompetent people, V18 will come and go and will leave no tangible heritage.

The government should realise that nobody cares about the vanity projects of a couple of airheads. Culture can only be strengthened in the long term if we provide capital expenditure to invest in the cultural infrastructure, including the public broadcaster. Recurrent expenditure will come and go, but speaking about these concepts to many officials in PBS and other cultural entities is like speaking Cantonese to a Maltese who can hardly speak and write in Maltese, let alone Cantonese.

The Minister of Culture should sit back, take a deep breath and begin his reality check. This state of shambles cannot go on forever and if everybody in the culture industry, except for the minister’s cronies, are saying the same thing, then something is surely amiss. After all, the Labour Party has been elected into office to do better than this.

Mark Camilleri is chairman of the National Book Council

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Mark Camilleri is a historian and chairman of the National Book Council.