It’s all about fairness

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.

Cartoon by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon by Mark Scicluna

The call by the Public Broadcasting Services asking for the resignation of the chairman of the Broadcasting Authority for 'being unable to resist pressures' is no small matter, and betrays a state of tension between the Broadcasting Authority and PBS.

This unexpected and unique call for the chairman's resignation following the opinion of the Broadcasting Authority that PBS should guarantee that news bulletins are fair and impartial represents a surreal situation, where the body being regulated calls for the resignation of the chairman of the authority constitutionally bound to regulate PBS. 

PBS has taken offence to being condemned by the Authority without first being given a right to be heard. PBS should make known the "alleged pressures" supposedly being exerted on the Chairman of the Authority, and this should spark off a public debate as it is in the public interest that people have trust, both in the Authority and in the Public Broadcasting Service. A good working relationship between the two bodies is essential in the interests of democracy.

An honest analysis of the history of national broadcasting reveals that all the local governments of the day since Independence have manipulated national broadcasting. This is not salutary, as government should remain at arm's length from the running of PBS. In fairness, all oppositions have complained of unfair treatment in their regard, assumed that governments made very few radical changes, and that the system is made to work to their advantage. It is worth pointing out that broadcasting in the '80s did in fact plummet to pretty low levels, and on being elected in the late '80s, the Nationalists did implement substantial improvements, epitomised by the introduction of pluralism, thus giving a voice to the voiceless.

To describe the state of national broadcasting as equally obscene as in the '80s would be an exaggeration, but it does undeniably remain controversial, as the feeling persists that it is biased in favour of the government, and this despite all parties and organisations being given coverage and equal treatment in the numerous debates.

However, there remains the feeling that national broadcasting is the voice of the parties and the institutions, and not the voice of the people. An analysis of the news and current affairs programmes carried out by the authority seems to reveal a level of partisan bias and lack of fairness. The question remains: what needs to be done to have a truly national service? The eve of a national election is also the time to discuss this issue.

It is very indicative that neither of the two political parties included concrete, radical reforms on national broadcasting in their electoral programmes. This newspaper has long campaigned for national broadcasting to be reformed radically and to start being looked at as a unifying national force. 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.

Concrete reforms should include an exclusion of party representatives from on the broadcasting authority and a widening of its composition to include civil society. 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 goes against all norms of fair play. Further reforms include the choice of the chairman of the Broadcasting Authority should be done by a two-thirds majority in parliament. 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. The new government should make this one of its top priorities.

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Only after redressing the imbalance the honest citizens of Malta suffered these past 25 years. The Maltese should be told the whole, complete stories of how their lives were torn apart by devious machinations of those in power over practically the last 25 years. One might argue that the people have already been made aware. My point is that when you are on the inside your knowledge not only solidifies and cobwebs clear, but far more details emerge that MUST be related to the population.