The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

Malta Television

Rachel Borg Saturday, 9 October 2021, 07:28 Last update: about 6 days ago

PBS’s (Public Broadcasting Service) Head of News, Norma Saliba, must be feeling nostalgic for those days of the 1980s when the national broadcasting service was nothing more than a propaganda tool in the hands of the Mintoff-ian government.

Such was the state control over the news and programme content, that the Nationalist Party in the early 1980s, and in Opposition, had to resort to clandestine transmissions from Sicily because it was refused a licence to broadcast whilst the state-owned broadcaster – the only licensed broadcaster – was, in effect, part of the ideological state apparatus systematically used and abused to the advantage of the ruling regime, in an attempt to suppress all opposition and control public opinion.

The Broadcasting Act of 1991, which made broadcasting pluralism possible, was undoubtedly a major milestone both for broadcasting itself and more so for the nation’s democratic development.

Fast forward to today and you can be forgiven for thinking that we are back to those days of “run rabbit run” being streamed on TVM (Malta Television) after the election.

On the surface we have the “modern” Labour Party of Joseph Muscat, branding about visions of Malta as the Dubai of the Mediterranean, full of high rise buildings, roads that try to copy Sheikh Zayed Road in a fraction of the space and a work-force of similar exploitation.  EU Commissioner Helena Dalli praises Malta’s exemplary advance in civil rights whilst falling behind on environmental and European conventions, especially in protecting against the hunting of birds, is deemed a prerogative of a modern island which managed to be the envy of Europe for its economic growth.

The underbelly, though, is beginning to compromise this vision drastically.  Anyone who lived through those dark times of state controlled media in the 1980s, will immediately identify the same discrimination happening now once again.

This week, PBS sent out a letter to producers, telling them that they have to present their topics and list of guests for approval from head of news Norma Saliba 15 days before the programme is to be broadcast.

Also earlier this week, news media reported that Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp had suffered an outage of service.  This lasted about 6 hours.  Once it was back online, people were immediately scrolling and getting themselves up-to-date again on the latest news and events and their social media.

In the time it took for Facebook to be restored, current affairs, stories and news would have changed topics many times over.  

Over at TVM however, TV journalists have some forecasting mechanism which tells them what current affairs will be the main topic of discussion, 15 days in advance, and which guests will be invited to the programme. 

Such orders quickly bring to mind that time when we were asked what newspaper we read or subscribed to, whenever going to a job interview or applying for university. 

Honestly!  How can this hybrid Labour Party and Prime Minister Robert Abela feel comfortable with such contradictions within their organisation?  Again, on the one hand, the Finance Minister, Clyde Caruana is trying to steer the direction of the island away from the sands of Dubai towards a modern EU state, whilst public broadcasting is coloured red and resembles the dinosaur age. 

Over at Police Headquarters there is a similar dilemma but not quite as acute as at TVM and One TV.  Here too, the Commissioner is applying great effort in giving the force a new and modern image.  Unfortunately, though, the underbelly is still heavy with persons of interest who have escaped scrutiny.  The only way it is going to pull itself up and out of the hole it is in, is to bring the culprits to face justice.  No more protection. 

We had another fine example of how ethics are held in disregard when in a statement on Facebook, the former Energy Minister said he has elected “not to participate in the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee which is led by the Nationalist Party on the Electrogas project”.

How can Robert Abela not expect to be shamed in front of international assemblies when he does nothing to reassure the nation and the FATF that our country works democratically and respects freedom of speech and a system of government that respects human rights and can be accountable and secure in the rule of law?  It is of little consequence that Konrad Mizzi is no longer a Labour MP and is an independent.  The subject of the PAC committee relates to the time when he was the minister responsible.

This is the reality now.  We can only fear what direction Malta will take if the Labour Party is re-elected with another strong majority.  Naturally, with the control that is taking place on the media and with the power of incumbency, with jobs being dished out liberally and money being splashed on every kind of hobby and ministerial districts like we are actually living in a Dubai , wealth economy, they stand every chance of being returned to power.

It is quite likely, though, that in the same way that Joseph Muscat was marginalized by the EU Commission and Parliament, left out in the cold, Robert Abela will also become the black sheep.  If he is happy to preach to the converted, to the stable of One journalists and to rest on

the horde of persons of trust in the administration whilst ignoring the pre-historic, out-dated, embarrassing and ugly policies in the public service and public interest and closing his eyes to infringements and disregard of the country’s institutions, he may as well make a recorded speech and go off to enjoy the status of PM from the wheel of his motor yacht.

This contradiction of terms and facts, policies and government is more likely to be seen in a dictatorship than in a “modern”, democratic state.  What can we expect, in our economy, in our social well-being, in industry and education when, if this were a medical case, it would be classified as a disorder?

The choice is in the hands of the PM.  He can choose to depend on an out-dated and discredited system of government or he can really make a difference and lead like a proper statesman and do the right thing without fearing losing his power.

The people of Malta deserve better. 

 

 

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