The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: PBS - Reform it, now

Tuesday, 15 June 2021, 07:41 Last update: about 3 months ago

The national broadcaster has once again proved that it is anything but impartial when it comes to presenting the news and current affairs. 

Just last week, PBS was chastised by the broadcasting watchdog and was ordered to air a feature which portrays the "real situation" in prison – a feature which "respects people’s intelligence".

The ruling came after a complaint was made by Faculty for Social Wellbeing Dean Andrew Azzopardi and presenter Peppi Azzopardi on a promotional feature produced by the CCF during the Popolin programme.

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That feature had given a totally warped picture of what prison is really like – one could say it actually made it look more like a vacation resort than the place of punishment and degradation that it really is.

The reality is that this was not an isolated incident.

The issue has been highlighted ad nauseam by the Nationalist Opposition, which has rightly complained that it has not been given due importance on the national TV station. Not only does TVM fail to report what the PN says, it often steers clear of controversial issues and other scandals involving the government. More often than not, more importance is given to human stories and social activities than some new political controversy.

Just recently, The Nationalist Party accused PBS of censorship after it failed to carry a statement by Opposition leader Bernard Grech when he called for the removal of Carmelo Abela pending an investigation by the police. Surely, such a development should not have been ignored by PBS.

The PN says that the national station has been hijacked by the Labour Party and, unfortunately, it seems to be right.

Over the past few years, many questionable promotions have been given at PBS, and the ‘restructuring’ that took place, including inside the newsroom, has only ensured that TVM’s 8pm news bulletin gives a warped version of reality.

One must also mention the resignation of PBS board chairperson Carmen Sammut, just a few months after she was appointed to the role. No explanation was given for Sammut’s resignation, although it is rumoured in the media circles that the real reason was that she could not take the political pressure any longer. If that was not a sign that things need to change, then we don’t know what is.

The National Broadcaster, funded by us taxpayers, must ensure that whatever is aired on its station portrays the true situation, and does not in any way try to make something look good if that isn’t the case. This is especially the case when it comes to an institution which has been under fire.

The fact is that PBS is meant to be THE independent broadcaster. It cannot be viewed by either political party as being ‘controlled’ by the other, otherwise its very purpose is defeated. In addition, it must report issues of national importance.

One of the local newsrooms recently filed a legal challenge against the Broadcasting Authority, which could see the television stations owned by the political parties – One and Net – close down.

While the newsroom in question has every right to file any court challenge it deems fit, we believe that the real effort should be directed at making PBS become the truly impartial station that the public deserves.

At least with One and Net you know where you stand. Anyone with half a brain cell knows that their content is biased in favour of the party that funds them. With PBS it’s a different story, however, and this is where the focus should lie.

With a general election just around the corner, it is of more vital importance that PBS stops being a government mouthpiece disguised as a supposedly impartial national broadcaster.

We need only look at other democracies and emulate what they are doing with public broadcasting – systems that have been in place for many decades and that ensure that the public stations do not serve as a propaganda machine for the government of the day.

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