PBS’s World Cup commentary decision opens gaping wound

But PBS decision to forgo Maltese commentary also raises issue of quality and language standard on TV.

"The bad reputation of football commentators has led to PBS scrapping Maltese commentary," said George Micallef, perhaps the most recognisable of Maltese football's voices, in a rant on his Facebook wall at news that the national broadcaster would not be hosting Maltese commentary for 2014's World Cup in Brazil.

After earlier this week describing the decision as "an insult" to all Maltese sports journalists, Micallef wrote that the negative perception on Maltese commentators "was down to PBS's decision to accommodate everyone by selecting a large number of journalists to commentate the European Championship and World Cup matches" - referring to the 2012 decision to engage 11 commentators for the European championships, apart from 'technical experts' by their side.

"Quality should be the sole criterion in the selection of commentators," Micallef said, adding that even foreign broadcasters were employinmg smaller pools of commentators in major tournaments.

Micallef has hit back at a wave of criticism directed at Maltese commentators on social media in the wake of PBS's decision to broadcast World Cup matches in English. But he has dismissed the notion that all Maltese commentators are incompetent.

The social media was awash with comments on the comical, and at times embarrassing, tendency of a number of Maltese commentators to mispronounce names, confuse players and their derisory use of the language.

"Don't tell me that nobody, absolutely nobody, is competent enough," Micallef wrote, saying that viewers were confusing competence with the style of commentators.

The Sports Journalists Association has also come out in fierce defence of its members, saying that it was unfair that PBS had placed all journalists in one basket. But the association admitted that it had already drawn the attention of some commentators on the quality of their work in the past.

"But these were isolated cases," Sandro Micallef, the association's secretary-general said. "The majority of our members carry out their job responsibly and with great dedication," Micallef said, urging them not to react to negative comments on the social media and instead be well-prepared when called on to commentate live sports events.

But while stopping short of criticising PBS, the association expressed its solidarity with members who "were keenly expecting to commentate 2014 World Cup matches," saying members rightly felt let down by the decision.  

"While thanking PBS for acquiring the rights to transmit the matches, the association disassociates itself from negative comments that have appeared in the press and social media about Maltese commentators from armchair critics who criticised Maltese commentators who, in their view, offered a poor service in the past. It is a pity that all the commentators were put in the same basket," the association said.

In his Facebook post, George Micallef expressed regret over the country's apparent inability to be self-critical, saying that "every word, tone and comment is interpreted negatively because of our insular mentality which turns everything into a 'with us, or against us' approach, as happens during parish feasts, politics and football. But we use a different yardstick when it come to foreign commentary."

Micallef said that PBS's decision to broadcast the 2014 Brazil World Cup matches in English had "caused an uproar and a number of persons took the opportunity to air their spite, envy and hypocrisy."

Micallef is insisting that after having acquired the rights to broadcast all World Cup matches, the state broadcaster is obliged to broadcast the matches in Maltese. "I'm not concerned had PBS safeguarded its commercial interests by offering an alternative in English. Technology would permit viewers the choice to watch games in either English or Maltese. Viewers would have at least been given a choice."

If PBS decided to remove Maltese commentary for quality issues, the national broadcaster should either change commentators or invest in the current pool of journalists and train them, Micallef added. 

"I never demanded anything for myself and my rare appearances on television always followed a request for his services. On occasions I have declined offers from PBS because I was not in a position to give my best... I never begged or kissed ass for work. I was always well prepared whenever I was asked to produce, present or commentate." 

Micallef, who no longer works as a full-time journalist, pointed out that he welcomed constructive criticism and that he was open to "learn more in the art of commentary."

But the respected sports journalist insisted that he had no intention of paying lip service to PBS managers.

In comments to MaltaToday earlier this week, PBS CEO Anton Attard said: "It is not custom for PBS to transmit all 64 games for free.  In the last World Cup, Maltese viewers had to switch to a service provider to follow some of the matches. There was no issue of understanding a foreign language, in most cases English or Italian, then and I don't think there is now."

Jidher li l-klikka tal PN issa se jippruvaw jghamlu pressjoni fuq il football. Nahseb li din kienet ideaja tajba tal PBS. Wara kollox hafna dilettanti jippreferi ir rapurtagg bl-Ingliz jew Taljan. Jidher li Micallef kellu rasu mimlija li se jiehu xahar holiday il Brazil.Micallef ma jistax ikun kummentatur ta stoffa ghax biast.
Maureen Attard
Well done PBS. Very Good decision. We want good commentaries. When there is the same on more then one station i discard Maltese TV and switch to foreign stations.
Mr Micallef is no pundit he's a BIAS commentator and cannot give lectures to to others
Well done PBS. It is time for the Maltese to realise that we cannot be the cream of the world, nor it's centre! Most probably, in fact certainly, there are others far better than us at any thing worth doing (except gemgem). Therefore, when the Maltese consumer is offered a choice it is only logical that they would chose the better product. In this case football, or in reality, any other commentary. The reason is very simple. We are brought up to think in Maltese, but speak and learn in English. Large countries do not have this schizophrenic approach to life. Therefore, their language skills are so much more clear to and so well accepted by the local ear.
Naqbel perfettament mal-PBS ghax tant huma fqar il-kommentaturi li qatt ma nsegwi loghoba football bil-Malti veru li jien Malti u nisthi li qed nikkumenta hekk izda irridu nammettu li hu hekk. Nahseb li b'hekk inkun nista insegwi l-PBS bir-reklamar etc u ma naqlibx fuq stazzjonijiet ohra kif jghamel kwazi kullhadd. Il-kummentarju ta loghoba suppost li jixbah lill dak bit-taljan jew bl-ingliz u mhux minn siegha u nofs hlif jideskrivu kollox barra l-andament tal-loghoba u zbalji banali ghax minn fuq screen ma tistax tikkumenta, ghax dak li nkun qed nara jien ikun wkoll qed jara l-kommentatur li stagnaw u hemm bzonn ta wcuh godda u professjonali.
The same goes for Maltese Dj's: gidra, karrottu, banana, kumander: hadd minnhom ma jaf jghid sentenza shiha bis-sens!
maria aquilina
Stop wasting your time mr. micallef. Whenever there is a game on two stations at the same time, all people I know discard TVM due to the puerile commentating on the game. Just talk about the maltese game and forget all others. we are not up to standard...in fact to be true I listen to the maltese commentator to have a good laugh!