Discussing the future of terrestrial television stations in the age of streaming might seem quaint and old fashioned. But the importance of a Public Broadcasting Service, not just as a witness to history but also as an essential part of the democratic discourse, makes this a topic of continued urgency. This is even more so during an electoral campaign.

Earlier this month, the Nationalist Party announced it was taking PBS to the constitutional court over claims of bias and propaganda.

The party said it had been completely infiltrated by Labour propaganda and no longer offered balanced views and information on sensitive topics of national importance.

The news of the PN case should have come as no surprise, including to the PN itself.

Ever since the overnight takeover of the private British-owned Malta television and its transformation into the new minted Xandir Malta (eventually to be redubbed Television Malta), the story of the state-owned television station has not been a happy one.

Rather than finding a national independent voice which would be a platform for creativity and discourse, and which, in the words of the John Reith, founder of the BBC, would entertain, educate, and inform, it has always been in the service of His Master’s Voice, whether under a Labour or Nationalist government.

Major decisions, such as the choice of board members, chairpersons or even CEOs of the broadcaster, have been the direct appointment of some minister or other.

In practical terms so has the management of the service.

So, it is no surprise that it was Minister Carmelo Abela, and not the PBS board or management, who announced the ‘rebranding’ of TVM2 into TVM News+.

And it is even less surprising that this launch has hardly been greeted with much joy by the viewers.

Indeed, according to the latest survey conducted by the Broadcasting Authority, TVM News+ has been successful in one thing only – reducing the already poor TVM2 numbers to just under three per cent or approximately 4,000 viewers at peak time. And that peak time is 8pm, when the channel runs the same news bulletin broadcast on TVM.

This follows on other unpleasant PBS news stories. We saw news programmes axed not because they were of poor quality but because they acted as a watchdog to the government.

We heard of disgruntlement among TVM journalists claiming they are not being allowed to do their job properly. We saw the sudden departure of media expert Carmen Sammut after only six months – to be replaced by IT entrepreneur Mark Sammut. And, a few months later, we saw Norma Saliba replaced as PBS news editor by Charles Dalli.

All these appointments and changes were done often without proper public debate or justification.

Despite the government’s stated commitment to support the Public Broadcasting Service and having just announced an additional €6 million budget, it seems its commitment goes only so far as seeing how PBS can best serve the interest of the government, and not the public.

With political parties continuing to encircle their tentacles round the broadcaster and strangling it, rather than rebranding a channel it is perhaps time to rebrand the broadcaster itself.

It is ridiculous in this day and age to keep seeing politicians use the state broadcaster as a tool.

In its current state, PBS is certainly not a public service.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us