The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

TMIS Editorial: The national broadcaster’s disservice

Sunday, 15 November 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 19 days ago

The role of and the need for political party stations is often debated, with some arguing that party media should be abolished, and others saying there’s no need for that because the public is well aware of their agendas anyway and one can freely choose not to follow them.

TVM, however, is a different story. We are talking here about the national broadcaster, which should be impartial and unbiased in its presentation of current affairs. In this regard, we believe that TVM News is doing the country a huge disservice. It is acting as a gatekeeper for the government and it does so in a way that is anything but subtle.

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The independent media was this week dominated by the arrest and interrogation of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi.

The latter was taken in for questioning on Tuesday evening. TVM ran a two-paragraph story, in which it referred to Mizzi as an “independent MP” and said he was being questioned over allegations he is facing. Just like that, without actually saying that he is a former government minister or making some effort to say what some of these allegations are.

Newsrooms often publish short reports in the rush to be the first ones to break the news and beef up the articles with more details a short while later. But the TVM report remained unchanged the following morning.

To make matters worse, the story was not given prominence in Tuesday’s TV news bulletin. TVM led instead with the signing of a new collective agreement for the Civil Protection Department. Even a human story about social housing, the daily COVID-19 numbers, and the publication of new regulations for drones were deemed to be more important than the arrest and interrogation of the Panama Papers minister.

This kind of disservice to the general public is almost as bad as One News, who, at 2pm on Wednesday – 24 hours after Schembri and Mizzi’s arrest – did not even have a news item about this particularly important piece of news. When they finally uploaded something later in the day, the report said that, “according to reports”, the pair were being questioned – by then it had been more than confirmed that this was indeed the case. On the other hand, the report about the case against Jonathan Ferris and Maria Efimova went up double fast and was presented as the main news on their website for most of the day.

TVM is known to have good contacts with the police force, and often has the most detailed crime and accident reports, to the extent that other newsrooms often quote it in their own reports. But when it comes to cases involving Labour politicians, it seems, its sources are less inclined to provide details and scoops.

This country has gone through and is still going through one of its worst political crises. Yet, the people running the TVM newsroom feel that reports about the PM cutting some ribbon here or there, or news items about some charity bake sale, deserve more importance than the fact that two politicians who have been constantly linked to corruption scandals have been questioned under arrest. After years of inaction on the Panama Papers and other countless scandals, the police force is finally acting but TVM does not deem this to be top news.

We know that TVM has always been, to some extent, influenced by the government of the day. Government officials entering the building is a common sight. But things at the national broadcaster have gone from bad to worse. Main political news is being purposely hidden or given far less importance than it should be given.

Such tactics would go unnoticed if TVM were the only source of news in the country, but obviously it is not. It is quite easy to notice that headline news on independent media websites is often missing from TVM’s own portal. And when reports are uploaded, they are often watered down to ridiculous extents, or strategically placed to attract less attention.

It is a pity that this latest failure by TVM took place in the same week the IGM awards were held, with the national broadcaster boasting of being among the three newsrooms with the highest amount of nominations, because there doesn’t seem to be much journalism going on at Guardamanga.

The media is an important pillar of democracy and the national broadcaster has a duty towards the public, not the government. News has to be presented in an impartial way and be given due importance. It is up to the viewers to then decide what they are or aren’t interested in, what is important and what isn’t. People deserve better.

 

 

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