The former head of news at the Public Broadcasting Services denied any pressure from government quarters and rebutted a claim that the public broadcaster was “a glorified notice board” for the government of the day.

Reno Bugeja, now retired after 44 years of service at the state entity, was the latest member of the journalistic profession to testify before the board conducting the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

“I don’t agree. That’s not fair,” he rebutted, when parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi asked whether PBS could be termed simply as a “glorified notice board” for the administration. 

Obviously, there was always room for improvement, but it was society at large that needed to be improved, first and foremost, by getting rid of polarisation and focusing on media education, the veteran journalist said. 

Bugeja denied having faced undue pressure from government authorities, saying that there seemed to be a “wrong perception” about this. 

“No one ever told us to apply the brakes,” he remarked, when it came to reporting stories.

And the fact that he was “attacked” by both sides of the political divide, meant that he was on the right path. 

Asked directly by the board about the 2014 visit to Azerbaijan by Joseph Muscat, when the media was not invited to accompany the delegation on that trip, Bugeja explained that he had missed the visit because he was stranded in Paris after failing to clear a visa issue.

However, he wanted to make something clear.

“There are many such meetings by politicians. Many are simply photo opportunities lasting a few minutes,” Bugeja said, adding that it was completely wrong to think that journalists were allowed to witness discussions at the negotiating table. 

As for his proximity to the administration of the day, the former head of news stated that it was “nothing personal,” adding that he had been appointed by the board of directors and was answerable to them. 

So how did he explain an email he had sent to Joseph Muscat in April 2008, addressing the then MEP as “Joseph” supplying feedback on the politician’s performance on the television program Dissett, he was asked.

“Your approval rating was 85% favourable,” read the email, noting further that on a general note Muscat had come across as “sharp” but rather “too brief”, possibly giving the impression of not being sufficiently prepared. 

Muscat had reacted to that email, with a, “thank you Reno…..It’s my pleasure to work with a person of integrity”.

That personal exchange, though dated 2008, did not go unnoticed by the panel of judges who sought an explanation from Bugeja. 

“Yes. I recall. Nothing extraordinary,” he replied, pointing out that Daphne Caruana Galizia had written about that programme and had remarked about his “sharp” questioning of Muscat.

“That correspondence does not prejudice my position, I think.”

He had corresponded with former prime ministers Lawrence Gonzi and Eddie Fenech Adami and had even invited former opposition leader Simon Busuttil to lunch, as “a sign of goodwill”.

Asked about an early story linking the motive behind the journalist’s assassination to fuel smuggling, Bugeja strongly rebutted, “That’s not true.”

He challenged the board to pinpoint one single report by PBS along those lines.

“That [story] was written by MaltaToday. I can document it. We never followed that line.”

Johan Galea testifies

At Wednesday’s sitting, Johan Galea, permanent secretary at the Justice Ministry, also testified, presenting to the board two lists of reports drawn up by the Permanent Commission Against Corruption.

The first list refers to reports from 2016 to date, which are available online on Parliament’s website. Older reports are available on request, Galea explained, pointing out that the commission was bound to present those reports to the Justice Minister who, in turn, tabled them in Parliament according to practice. 

The inquiry continues on Friday. 

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

Support Us