Prime Minister Robert Abela on Sunday claimed he was not involved in the axing of popular prime time show Xarabank

During his leadership campaign, Abela had vowed to carry out reforms at the national broadcaster, a pledge which many Labour supporters interpreted as a sign that the long-running programme’s days were numbered. 

Speaking during an interview on ONE TV led by Lovin Malta’s Christian Peregin, Abela denied giving any political direction to dump the talk show. 

“The decision about Xarabank was taken by the PBS editorial board.”

Abela said he could not promise a better programme would replace Xarabank, as he had no say in the matter. 

On political parties owning television stations, Abela said he believed in media pluralism.  

“Just like the church has its own station, political parties have theirs too. What’s important is that these stations are factual.” 

Abela said the need for impartiality applied across the board, including when it came to independent media. 

He said there was also an argument that political stations could help restore certain balance and neutrality in the message being transmitted. 

Abela said the media was one of the key pillars in any democracy. He said the government had provided aid to all media houses during the COVID-19 pandemic, with no strings attached. 

COVID-19 pandemic

Abela acknowledged that certain decisions could have been handled differently during the Covid pandemic but did not elaborate any further. 

The prime minister said the facts showed the government had handled the pandemic well, striking a balance between health and the economy. 

“This was an unprecedented situation, there was no manual on how to handle it”. 

While acknowledging an increase in the infection rate, Abela reiterated it was also a fact that Malta’ mortality rate had been kept low and the symptoms of those infected had been mild. 

He said it was inevitable infections would rise once Malta’s was opened up from its bubble in July, when the airport reopened

Abela said the important thing was that Malta’s healthcare system is strong and resilient, which is what distinguishes it from other countries. 

Asked about other countries placing restrictions on those travelling from Malta, Abela countered that restrictions have been put in place all over Europe, and Malta had closed its doors to other countries. 

Abela also expressed his condolences of the 72-year-old man who passed away last week after being infected by COVID-19. 

The prime minister was coy when asked whether the wage support supplement system would be extended and whether more vouchers would be given. 

He said the government was constantly monitoring the situation and taking decisions accordingly. 

Abela said all decisions to combat the virus had been signed off on by Health Minister Chris Fearne and Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci.

Migration 

Questions about a petition demanding the closure of Malta’s borders to migrants arriving by sea, Abela said migration had always been a sensitive subject that had not always been treated seriously. 

Certain areas like Ħamrun and Marsa were bearing the brunt of the burden, Abela said. 

He warned that anyone caught disobeying the law would have to face the consequences.

“We want people to feel safe when they are in their homes and out in the streets”. 

The prime minister said migrant arrivals had decreased over the past seven months. He said the reality was that Malta had to abide by international laws, and would continue to do so. 

Vessels in distress would continue to be assisted he said, adding that the government did not have any rescue obligations for vessels that did not find themselves in distress. 

Abela said the government had been focusing on “legally reducing” migrant departures from Libya. 

He also reiterated the importance of migrant relocations and solidarity between EU countries. 

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