Veteran broadcaster Toni Sant reminisces about the history of Rediffusion in Malta with Ramona Depares as he launches his new publication about the topic.
Remember Rediffusion in Malta, a book detailing the history of Rediffusion in Malta – the first of its kind that delves into the main players and the incidents that were to shape the future of the broadcasting industry – was released on June 17. Written by Toni Sant, currently artistic director at St James Cavalier’s Spazju Kreattiv and himself a veteran in broadcasting, the book spans the years preceeding the advent of national broadcaster Xandir Malta in 1975.
“I started my career at Xandir Malta in 1985, producing a series of television and radio shows and, of course, one of the biggest milestones of the time was the closure of cable radio towards the end of January 1989.
Charles Flores, who at the time was head of programmes, suggested that I turn a series of interviews taken from the 30-year-old collection at the station into a series called Il-Fil tat-Tiġdid – the pun on ‘fil’ being intentional, of course,” Toni says.
The idea was to turn the archival recording and interviews into a 26-hour long series and to look back upon the history of Malta’s broadcasting in an informal manner. The series was welcomed by audiences and another suggestion was made, this time, by Charles Arrigo.
“It was Charles who first mentioned the idea of turning these interviews into a book. This was in 1991. I, actually, did start working on the project, but shortly afterwards I left Malta for many years and that was it, as far as I was concerned.”
To make matters more difficult, first-hand oral histories were almost impossible to obtain, given that a substantial amount of the people who had been involved had died
The idea, however, didn’t die. Years later, the suggestion was made again to Toni – this time by PIN Publishers.
“I was still living away from Malta, though, so it would have been difficult to take it up and the PIN book ended up being written by Tony C. Cutajar, instead,” he recollects.
And yet, the dream of writing a book related to broadcasting was never forgotten. Years passed and Toni released his first book on a totally unrelated topic – avant-garde art in late 20th-century New York. The process inspired him to start planning his second book and, in his own words, he “found it natural to go back to this original project”.
“2015 was the 80th anniversary since the advent of broadcasting in Malta and we have no real records detailing this history. It was definitely time to rectify this. By now, the idea had evolved from the original one. It started out somewhat as a Rajt Malta Tinbidel Vol 5 kind of thing, but now it has evolved into a book that actually feeds on my academic skills. I describe it as an archaeology project as opposed to a history book. The topics it deals with are arguably safely dead; there are no significant written records anywhere about the days of Rediffusion,” Toni says.
Moreover, he feels that the more recent press coverage only serve to give the impression that Malta started broadcasting in 1962, with no media material related to the preceeding decades when Rediffusion was very much alive.
“The years between 1935 and 1975 were rich with history. Then, the notorious February 14 sit-in took place in 1975 and the Rediffusion managers were locked out. Thus, Xandir Malta was born. It was a historical moment, we finally had our national broadcaster. But what about what came before that and all the Maltese broadcasters who were pioneers on the local scene, albeit with Rediffusion?”
To make matters more difficult, first-hand oral histories were almost impossible to obtain, given that a substantial amount of the people who had been involved had died in the meantime. This, according to Toni, is why he prefers to refer to it as archaeology rather than history.
“There was next to nothing available with which to build a proper history. This is a common problem in Malta – we seem to lack a sense of identity, mostly because we do not really know where we come from. We have very little raw material to work on. Even the photographs that I found were mostly unmarked. Figuring out who was who was mostly educated guess-work, even when the subjects were important players on the scene. There is practically no reliable narrative to resort to,” he says.
The good news is that we are still in time to set things right, to some degree, and Toni hopes that Remembering Rediffusion in Malta will go quite some way achieving this.
“After all, the preservation of our audio-visual cultural heritage and systematic management of oral histories are two of the actionable points on the government’s last electoral manifesto, Chapter 13, Pledges 31 and 32, to be precise. I’m just doing my bit to ensure that everything is done to make these two measures happen, as much as possible,” Toni concludes with a smile.
Remembering Rediffusion in Malta is published by Midsea Books and is available from bookstores.