First rule of politics: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. But that’s exactly what OPM Minister Carmelo Abela keeps doing in his defence of the government-highjacked state broadcaster.

The minister has now become PBS’s mouthpiece and propagandist, proving, in fact, what the Nationalist Party has been saying all along.

Last week, he added the duties of editor-in-chief to his ministerial portfolio by querying, publicly, what is and what is not of news value worthy of making it to the PBS news bulletins.

His government rendered PBS a government mouthpiece worthy of a one-party state. The ministry of truth, really and truly.

Having read Abela’s latest article in the Times of Malta trying to belittle, unsuccessfully, the opposition’s quest for an impartial state broadcaster, the government’s hold on PBS becomes blatantly obvious.

To make matters worse, a memo recently sent to all PBS current affairs producers obliges them to inform the PBS head of news, 15 days in advance, of topics to be discussed and guests to be invited.

As expected, this memo was met by a barrage of criticism not only by the opposition but by anybody who knows (and it’s not rocket science) that current affairs programmes cannot be planned two weeks in advance.

Consider this: Konrad Mizzi has refused to be grilled by parliament’s public accounts committee. As per the PBS internal memo, a current affairs producer who wants to discuss this obscenity needs to request approval from PBS and wait 15 days to debate this matter. In fact, like all other important debates, it won’t make it to the PBS studios.

Shouldn’t progressives be in favour of a free press?

It’s screamingly obvious that Castille calls the shots. Ironically, Abela ‘criticised’ the memo to create some semblance of distance between him and the decision-makers.

Not only did the memo remain in place but, a few hours later, he was back doing what he does best – defending the PBS’s heavy bias in favour of his government and trying, unsuccessfully, to silence the opposition.

Abela thinks he can act as though nobody is realising what is going on.

He may continue to write articles about the PN and the opposition, criticising our work for revealing the government’s takeover of PBS but the truth is that his actions and omissions continue to demonstrate that the government has its hands all over the national TV station’s decisions.

Notwithstanding government attempts to silence the opposition, we shall not be silenced.

Abela has now challenged the opposition for a debate on the current state of the national broadcaster choosing PBS as the venue. We have no problem with debating Abela on PBS, or anywhere else, for that matter. It is the prime minister who is shying away from having a debate with Opposition Leader Bernard Grech.

Who should we ask to set up this debate? Abela’s secretary?

Ironically, Abela recently turned down a real invitation by Net Television to debate broadcasting.

Either way, PBS has become the natural extension of the Labour Party and this is a serious threat to democracy. What should be a public entity, funded by taxpayers to the tune of €6 million annually, obliged to reflect the diversity in the country is now a pawn in the government’s hands. As we have already stated, this situation is a clear abuse of power that exceeds all the limits of decency and insults the public’s intelligence.

PBS has a duty to report impartially on both the government and the opposition. It is clearly failing in this responsibility.

The basic principles of democracy are being strangled and the opposition will have none of this.

Abela will have to try harder. So far, he failed abysmally. Labour tries to depict itself as ‘progressive’. Shouldn’t ‘progressives’ be in favour of a free press?

Rather than ensuring that PBS has a free hand in reporting, through newspaper articles and public utterances, Abela blames the opposition for requesting an impartial state broadcaster. Mind boggling, really.

David Agius is PN deputy leader and Alessia Psaila Zammit is a PN candidate.

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