Malta should revise its public service media legislation to include safeguards against political interference, a European-wide study suggests.
The lack of independence in terms of the governance and funding of such media was indicated as a particular issue of concern by national experts consulted during research on media pluralism.
For the research, the ‘Media pluralism monitor’, designed to identify potential risks, was applied to 28 EU member states and two candidate countries (Montenegro and Turkey). Its report for 2016, published this month, concludes that none of these countries are free from risks for media pluralism.
The data for Malta was collected by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom between May and October of last year. A group of experts was also interviewed to ensure reliable findings.
Commenting on public service media (PSM), in her conclusions on Malta, researcher Iva Nenadic notes there are no guarantees of independence because both the board of directors and the editorial board were directly appointed by the government.
“Therefore, it is suggested to revise legislation on PSM regulation and appointments procedure to include safeguards from political interference,” she said.
Malta is the only EU country that has such extensive media ownership by the political parties
The research also looked into media literacy, with Malta qualifying as one of the few countries in Europe that had no such policy last year.
“To empower citizens with critical understanding and skills needed for active participation in the contemporary information exchange, policymakers in Malta, as well as academia and media industry, have to involve themselves into inclusive discussion that results in comprehensive and applicable media literacy strategy,” the report said.
Throughout the research, risks to media pluralism were examined in four main areas: market plurality, political independence, social inclusiveness and basic protection, which includes freedom of expression, the status of journalists, reach of traditional media and internet access.
Implementing the ‘Media pluralism monitor’ tool in Malta showed an average of medium risk for the four categories.
The only one that scored a low risk is basic protection but with at least one matter of concern – lack of efficient professional organisation and self-regulation of journalists.
Meanwhile, the highest risks in the area of market plurality are largely related to the lack of monitoring and data on market shares of media companies and newspapers circulation, in particular the lack of insight into online media.
The political independence area scored a medium risk overall but with three indicators flagged at high risk: political control over media outlets, editorial autonomy and the independence of PSM governance and funding.
The researcher highlights the absence of law that would make government office incompatible with media ownership.
The government is allowed to own, control or be editorially responsible for nationwide TV and radio services, under certain conditions.
Both political parties represented in the House of Representatives own, control and manage their own media enterprises consisting of different media outlets, publishing house and mobile telephony, the researcher notes.
“Malta is the only EU country that has such extensive media ownership by the political parties. For this reason, the indicator on political control over media outlets acquires 90 per cent of risk, which is the highest in this area.
“However, some experts interviewed in Malta argue that, in comparison to other EU countries, political parallelism in Malta is just more transparent and ensures that different political viewpoints are represented in the media system. There is more concern about the indirect and non-transparent political influences over PSM,” the report remarks.