The broadcasting watchdog has ordered the national television station to air a feature on the "real situation" in prison and which “respects people’s intelligence” after it upheld a complaint that a feature broadcast in April lacked objectivity.
The Broadcasting Authority ordered Public Broadcasting Services to engage "an independent and impartial producer" to prepare a three-minute feature about the Corradino Correctional Facility within one week.
It was ruling on a complaint by the Dean for the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, Andrew Azzopardi, and Xarabank presenter Peppi Azzopardi over a promotional feature produced by the Correctional Services Agency and broadcast during the programme Popolin, which gave the wrong impression about the real situation at the prisons.
The Azzopardis complained that during the April 30 programme, a feature on the situation in prison painted a picture that was far from the truth.
They said the feature made it seem that the prison was one big village, where everyone was happy and interacted together, learning trades and living a good life was, when in actual fact, it was an oppressive place.
The number of deaths and suicides in prison showed the depressing state of prison while inmates serving time were in a desperate situation.
The decision also uncovered the attempt to have blatant propaganda by the Correctional Services Agency (CSA)- Andrew Azzopardi
Andrew Azzopardi said that contrary to the impression given, only 70 prisoners were learning a trade during their time in jail and prisoners find it very difficult to rebuild their lives after their release.
Peppi Azzopardi told the Broadcasting Authority that some of the services mentioned in the feature were not even provided at CCF.
On their part, PBS editor Norma Saliba and lawyer Ishmael Psaila defended the feature, arguing that the complaint was subjective and was only the complainants' interpretation.
Saliba said PBS often reported criticism on the prison authorities as well as about deaths and suicides in prison. She said the station had its own editorial discretion and could not be expected to feature a programme that would not have been verified by its editors.
In its ruling, the BA said the feature in question only presented one side of the story and one version of the situation in prison, which had been described as a "village".
It also noted that although the programme’s presenter, Quinton Scerri, said this was one of a series of productions, no other feature about prison was broadcast after the complaint was filed.
As it upheld the complaint, ruling that the feature was not objective, it gave PBS one week to air another feature produced by someone who was impartial and independent.
Contacted for comment, Prof. Azzopardi said: " I welcome the BA's bold decision to uphold the voice of the voiceless, in this case prison inmates. The BA showed that it can serve an important function to achieve balance and here we aren't speaking about partisan politics.
"The decision also uncovered the attempt to have blatant propaganda by the Correctional Services Agency (CSA) management which produced a feature to make it all seem rosy in prison and which either PBS simply aired without actually verifying or else decided to close an eye to the flagrant untruths presented in this feature. Peppi and I are committed to remaining a voice for the voiceless."
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