One of the major criticisms immediately levelled at the Labour government soon after it was first elected in 2013 was that it was hijacking the institutions. It started off by staffing the police force, the army and PBS, the national broadcaster, with people whose strings could be pulled.
Leaving aside the way programmes aired on TVM, run by Public Broadcasting Services, are chosen, the 8pm news bulletin itself is a good indicator of the travesty that the supposedly independent national station has become. The constant pro-government slant is in our faces as much as it has ever been in the worst of times.
A case in point is the way the COVID-19 crisis is reported. On most days, TVM news first reports the number of tests carried out, then the number of people who have recovered, then, when listeners’ ears are already saturated with numbers, they give the number of new cases.
In one instance recently, when social media was flooded with expectations of the record number, PBS news led with the story that a record number of tests had been carried out.
There are times when the imbalance is subtle. Most of the time it is crudely appalling. PBS seems to be very reluctant to report stories perceived as damaging to the Labour government.
For example, conspicuously absent from the main PBS news headlines was the major development that the court ordered the freezing of assets of Keith Schembri, Brian Tonna and Karl Cini.
This news item was aired halfway through the bulletin, following a longish story from the law courts about a theft of €1,200 worth of fuel.
The following day, when Schembri was arrested, PBS did lead with the story but that brief announcement was immediately followed by another item quoting the prime minister saying “the institutions are working”.
The way PBS covered the FinCEN files story is another case in point.
It was just another ‘foreign’ news item, with no links to Malta at all, despite the Times of Malta report showing there were €647 million in suspicious transfers by a former Electrogas stakeholder.
If there is an item of relevance to Maltese viewers and listeners right now, it must be Electrogas. And PBS knows all about Electrogas; it had been on the forefront of trying to illustrate the project of the power station and the tanker anchored right next to it at Marsaxlokk as the best investment the country ever made.
It is no defence for PBS to argue it has had no complaints from the opposition party. The PN has been in disarray for so long it is little wonder that this imbalance is not one of its major targets.
PBS has a new board, chaired by Carmen Sammut, a pro-rector at the University of Malta and a former PBS employee herself. Sammut might argue that editorial discretion lies with the newly-appointed editor Norma Saliba, who was brought back from the president’s office to fill the editor’s shoes.
Saliba’s affiliations and connections with Labour are well known.
It is an open secret that all PBS editors have been subjected to political interference over the years. Some have tried to resist the political pressure, others squarely became their master’s voice, losing their reputation and dignity in the process.
Will the new PBS board put its public service obligation – to report all news in an unbiased and objective manner – above any loyalty to Labour?
Or will it continue feeding propaganda to the masses, therefore contributing to the country’s political myopia and the worrying dearth of critical thinking?
The situation does not look hopeful.
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