PBS is still a ‘political battleground’ – chairman Tonio Portughese

Political parties and their voters will always complain about PBS’s news bulletins: ‘it is in their nature’, but talks of the need to address questions of media imbalance.

The new chairman of the Public Broadcasting Services has called for an to the confrontation between PBS and the Broadcasting Authority, which has often held the national broadcaster up to the light of its judgement on issues of media imbalance and partiality.

Tonio Portughese, who was appointed by the new Labour administration, said communication between the two entities had come to a historical low. The BA is an independent, constitutionally-appointed body which is however composed of two members recommended each by the Nationalist and Labour parties, apart from the regulator's chairman.

In an interview with Andrew Azzopardi on Radju Malta's Ghandi Xi Nghid, Portughese said the new PBS board of directors recognised the constitutional role of the Broadcasting Authority.

"The Authority has a legal role to serve as a watchdog over PBS. Even though there might be cases where we may not concur with their observation, we are willing to discuss this round a table," Portughese said.

The new chairman also said he had found no political pressure from the government to bring back relations between PBS and the Broadcasting Authority to the best of terms.

"When I took office, I asked the authorities whether I should try to heal the wounds, but they gave me a free hand to do what I thought it would be best," Portughese said.

The chairman claimed that he was told by the executive that there would no political interference in PBS programming, either. "I asked if there were any terms of reference but they insisted there will be no political interference. And I confirm there is none," Portughese insisted.

But the new chairman also said that PBS would still be a battleground between the political parties, at least for the time being.  "I expect that the parties will still lament about the situation, it's in their nature. Ultimately we are here to serve the public, not a particular party or individual," Portughese remarked over the news content of PBS bulletins.

He added that the new editorial board will enjoy full autonomy in choosing news programming.

"PBS has to fight the perception it has gained of broadcasting unbalanced programmes. We are currently at the receiving end of the entire political spectrum. Labour voters say that nothing has changed, the Nationalists are saying that the new board is already showing their true political allegiance. It's a lose-lose scenario right now."

Portughese, who is not a new face in national broadcasting, having served at the time of Xandir Malta, also spoke about the first political debate broadcast in Malta in 1981. "It seems that I was the only person that the political parties agreed on presenting this debate. I remember soldiers in the streets and a lot of expectation about this debate between Dom Mintoff and Eddie Fenech Adami... That debate soon resulted into an anti-climax, with the leaders participating in a civil and structured debate."

@XPRUN - Sewwa qed tikteb, mija fil-mija ghandek ragun. Il fatti huma li l-kankru tal-lum hemm canx li jinbidel u hekk u sew u hekk ghandu ikun, imma mhux bil kankru tal passat li ghamel hafna hsara.
Dear Mr. sparku you are correct that all that time has passed, in fact I did not realize. The shocking factor is both you and I fall into, you are 32 years and I am over 70 and it seem along the way nothing changed. Do we really need old skeleton who have such interesting past? or start fresh with new blood? In your case I suggest to see what some champions of democracy at the time with what arrogance they run the country and we still keep appointing them while receive their pension. Where is the turning of the new page promised? Really, there is no one else? For the record the election that followed was as bad as this was for the Nationalist.
@ "Il-Bully" - jien la naqbel mall-hnizrijiet li saru fi zmien Xandir Malta u l-anqas ma dawk li saru f'dawn l-ahhar snin. Biss nippreferi min aperetament jidher li hu zbilancjat. milli min, b'mod sottili jipprova jghaddini biz-zmien ghax minghalih li n-nies imzazen. Il-kampanja orkestrata mill-PN minn meta poggew lil Anton Attard bhala chairman tal-PBS u bil-prim atturi il-pupazzi Lou Bondi, Peppi Azzopardi, Norman Vella u Pierre Portelli hija xi haga tal-misthija u tad-dardir hafna aktar mill-kummidji ta Run Rabbit Run ta' zmien Eileen Montesin.
David Bongailas
Dear Bully if there is one thing the last general election taught s is that the "run rabbit run scare tactics" are wwwaaayyy past their best before date. Take me for example, I am today 32 so no spring chicken by all means, the incident you are mentioning happened when I was 5 months old. Do you really expect me to take waht you are saying seriously ??!!
Withdrawal symptoms that occur upon the abrupt discontinuation of an AGENDA , hidden and not so hidden !
Mr. Tonio Portughese it has been such an honour to have you one board, selected by this New Government. You are saying you served at the time of Xandir Malta. Wow! what a difference at least we still not have yet 'Run Rabbit Run' or this is left for before election? Some people can hide the colour of their skin but NEVER CHANGE.