Reforming the public broadcaster | Carmelo Abela

This commitment is aimed at developing better journalistic, sports, cultural programming and also more quality programming targeting youths and in relation to life in Gozo | Carmelo Abela

Many would expect for reform to be presented in a document with big titles and grand statements. I would instead submit hat change needs to be executed and experienced. This is what my mantra has been since taking over the Public Broadcasting co-ordination portfolio in January last year.

I use ‘co-ordination’ as indeed it was always my ethos not to overstep this role and interfere in the editorial line at TVM.

TVM and its role as part of the fourth pillar of democracy is sacrosanct. This however does not relinquish the importance of government’s role to oversee PBS as a company where the State has full shareholding, and from reforming and updating how we as a country interpret the role of public broadcasting from a policy and implementation perspective.

As from my first visit to PBS on the 5 February 2020 I reflected Prime Minister Robert Abela’s words and vision for change at the public broadcaster. Change based on inclusivity, access, quality and creativity.

One of the major changes effected was one that saw our programme statement of intent process modernised and updated – taking into account numerous recommendations made by the industry during a specific conference on the quality of public broadcasting.

This ministry has pushed to provide PBS with even more resources with an aim to reach the widest possible audience including online. This has been seen to via a strong multi-annual package to PBS that will see its budget allocation reach €30 million over five years to create content that is not purely of a commercial nature as part of its public service obligation.

This commitment is aimed at developing better journalistic, sports, cultural programming and also more quality programming targeting youths and in relation to life in Gozo.

Over the last year and a half we have clearly outlined how accessibility will become a principle synonymous with PBS. On the national day of sign language in 2020, we coordinated the launch of a campaign by PBS in order to teach the Maltese audience basic terms in sign language. An initiative which has been received positively by the general public and which was renewed over a number of months. We have also endeavoured to provide important broadcasts like the COVID briefings and current affairs programme INSIGHTS in sign language.

Apart from this we held three consecutive consultation sessions on broadcasting and inclusivity – the first two focused on highlighting issues faced by deaf and blind members of the audience and the third focused on the segment of our audience that has intellectual disabilities. We discussed rules to increase obligatory subtitling, audio files to accompany all news articles, better programming for those on the autism spectrum and much more.

The feedback gathered through these three consultation sessions is being useful for the national broadcaster to improve accessibility for all.

Another seminar on the use of the Maltese language in broadcasting served as a catalyst for a new code of the use of Maltese in broadcasting which will be made public in the next weeks.

This apart from other internal structural changes in the running of the corporation that might not be seen from the outside but which I assure you have already started to reap results within. This is the change that we are bringing along. A change which is being experienced first hand by producers as they dialogue with PBS in their preparations for the new autumn schedule and a more visible change that we will announce very soon: always with an aim to give a better service to the Maltese audience, so that the PBS rises up to the challenge’s of a news cycle that never sleeps and an audience that expects – and deserves – more quality, variety and thought provoking content. A PBS that indeed we can all continue to be proud of.

Carmelo Abela is minister within the Office of the Prime Minister