Updated 8pm, adds PN statement
Xarabank, the most watched TV programme for more than 20 years, has been axed from TVM's schedule, its host Peppi Azzopardi announced on Friday.
Launched in 1997, Xarabank was a discussion/infotainment programme known for its open - and often loud - debates, where everyone is invited "to have their say".
The reason for its removal is not yet known but the decision is bound to generate controversy among many who religiously tuned in on Friday nights.
In a Facebook post, Azzopardi said Xarabank was never found guilty of imbalance, raised million of euros for the needy and won all TV and journalism awards.
Azzopardi said the last Broadcasting Authority survey had confirmed Xarabank was the most watched programme on TV.
Loved and derided by many, Xarabank varied its content and discussions, featuring its own investigations, debates about topics ranging from politics to satire, current and foreign affairs, human stories and on occasions, fundraisers.
One of its recent fundraisers collected €800,000 for a new care home for people living with neurological conditions.
Its coverage of current affairs has, at times, been controversial, like that one time in 2018 when a court decided that a Xarabank interview with a teen accused of the attempted murder of a police officer following a hit-and-run incident should not be aired.
Azzopardi himself has come under fire and was often at the receiving end of hate speech because of his stand on migration among others.
Well-known for his pro-integration views, Azzopardi's inbox is regularly flooded with hateful messages, particularly when his programme features migrants and multiculturalism.
Interviewed on TimesTalk in 2017, Azzopardi had acknowledged that Xarabank was not a neutral programme and will continue with its agenda in favour of minorities.
Back then he had said Xarabank was an "uncomfortable" vehicle for those in power.
In 2011, the Labour Party had resorted to dissociating itself from its former general secretary Jason Micallef’s declaration that Azzopardi should be axed from PBS once the PL was elected to government.
Reacting to the news, Nationalist MEP David Thake, said serious questions needed to be asked about the decision.
"Whether you were a fan or not, Xarabank remained Malta's most popular TV show so one must question the motivation behind the decision taken to remove it from the PBS schedule," he said.
In a statement, the Nationalist Party expressed concern at the decision.
Spokeswoman Therese Comodini Cachia said the decision was another attack on free journalism, freedom of expression and media freedom.
Those who had the tiniest respect at how the media worked in a democratic society understood that this included the right to be controversial and shocking. If this was not allowed, the government would be denying the people a forum of free, uncensored debate.
Malta was again facing a real threat that its national broadcasting station would serve as a propaganda tool for the government with political interference dictating what the people should watch and listen to.
There were already unlimited press conferences by members of the government, a head of news from outside the station, the censorship of journalists’ questions during press conferences and now the removal of the most followed programme.
The party expressed solidarity with Xarabank’s Peppi Azzopardi and his team and with the thousands of Maltese who used to follow the programme. It also thanked Azzopardi for his philanthropic work and for his commitment to free broadcasting, human values and freedom of thought.