Details of Malta’s spending on the Eurovision Song Contest do not need to be made public as the information relates to a “purely commercial activity”, the data commissioner has ruled.
The Times of Malta filed a Freedom of Information request in May for a full breakdown of all spending by PBS and other government departments on this year’s Eurovision, after reports of a “limitless” budget allocation in the hope of boosting singer Ira Losco’s chances.
The FOI request was turned down by the public broadcaster on the basis that, as a commercial partnership, it had no obligation to provide details of “commercial activities”.
This newspaper asked the data protection commissioner to review the case and issue a decision, but after a “thorough investigation”, the commissioner upheld PBS’s decision to deny access to the data.
The commissioner also said he had established, “in a clear and factual manner”, that no public funds were actually committed by PBS for this year’s contest.
“Had such funds been utilised, the commissioner would have undoubtedly taken different views and made ulterior considerations to ensure that the scope of the Freedom of Information law is achieved and the public interest served.”
Leaked documents have shown that accommodation expenses for the Maltese delegation amounted to €89,844 and flight tickets cost €18,420.
The documents show expenses exceeding €200,000, though the final figure is known to be higher still. The total for just the flight and hotels was equivalent to the entire budget allocated to the competition in the past, according to sources close to PBS.
The broadcaster has consistently disputed the reports, insisting the actual figure was significantly lower and that all expenses incurred were covered by advertising and sponsorships, such that PBS made an overall profit.
Claims of a profit have now been backed up by the data commissioner after having examined documentation showing all expenses incurred by the delegation in Stockholm – including staff salaries and administrative costs – as well as all commercial revenue from advertising and sponsorship.
The Times of Malta has maintained that the administration of funds by a State-owned entity, whatever the source of the funds, was in the public interest.