The Malta Independent 16 December 2017, Saturday

Joseph Muscat refuses to be interviewed on INDEPTH, chickens out of Xarabank debate

Sunday, 8 January 2017, 11:30 Last update: about 11 months ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has categorically refused to face tough questions on the popular online programme INDEPTH on independent.com.mt. In an SMS exchange he had with Pierre Portelli, Director of Content at Standard Publications and co-presenter and producer of INDEPTH, Joseph Muscat replied to an invitation to appear on the programme saying: “I will not beat around the bush. No.”

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The Prime Minister was to be the first guest on INDEPTH in 2017, following the success the programme achieved in just 11 weeks of its online broadcast with more than 260,000 views registered. The format of the programme is a simple question and answer produced and presented by Mr Portelli, Rachel Attard who is News Editor for all platforms at The Malta Independent and Stephen Calleja who is the Online Editor of independent.com.mt

PBS refused to take the programme on more than one occasion, until Standard Publications decided to make INDEPTH the first independent online current affairs programme. Following its immediate success, the programme was also distributed to FLiving TV and Smash TV, while Campus FM is to begin broadcasting the programme in the coming days.

“The Prime Minister knows that the programme is just half-an-hour in duration so we don’t have time to ask him about his favourite meal or his exercise routine,” says Mr Portelli, who admitted his disappointment.

“I listed out to him the topics on which I will be basing my questions: the EU Presidency, the general election, the electoral programme, the wave of scandals throughout his tenure and his achievements,” says Mr Portelli, who suspects that Dr Muscat and his close aides fear that the local media might soon be revealing the secret owner of the third Panamanian company listed in the Panama Papers scandal in which Minister Without Portfolio Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri were caught with secret companies in Panama and repeatedly tried to open bank accounts for those companies in which they intended to deposit large sums of cash.

One might think that this gate-keeping by the Prime Minister is directly related to the fact that an election is expected to be announced in the next 10 months, hence the Prime Minister, who is Labour’s best asset, will not expose himself to undue stress that could place him with his back against the wall.

Sources in the Nationalist Party revealed to this newsroom that Joseph Muscat has chickened out of a debate with Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil on Xarabank. It seems that the production team of the popular talk show emailed an invitation to both leaders and while Dr Busuttil accepted, Dr Muscat refused to participate. 

Instead, he appeared alone with MaltaToday’s managing editor Saviour Balzan on the new prime time show XTRA. In the last Broadcasting Authority survey, Xarabank attracted an audience of 63,000 while XTRA peaked with 19,000 viewers. 

With or without the Prime Minister in the hot seat, INDEPTH will continue asking hard questions. Nationalist Party Leader Simon Busuttil and Speaker of the House of Representatives Anġlu Farrugia have already confirmed their participation in the programme. The INDEPTH series can be accessed on www.independent.com.mt/archive/indepth

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