The Malta Independent 21 October 2021, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Public Broadcasting Services

Saturday, 9 October 2021, 09:04 Last update: about 12 days ago

No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, and no we haven’t been hacked – what you’re seeing above translates from Korean to ‘Public Broadcasting Services.’

The inspiration for our recently developed knowledge of East Asian linguistics comes from a lot closer to home – incidentally from Guardamangia and the base of Malta’s public broadcaster.

State broadcaster PBS has for a long time been a hot potato – irrespective of which party is in government – but things have rarely been as bad as they are now.

We have long written about the need for change and reform within PBS, especially after the appointment of Norma Saliba, known to be very close to the Labour Party, as the station’s head of news last year.

There have since been a number of concerns and controversies surrounding PBS’ impartiality – or lack thereof.

We have seen PBS be chastised by the broadcasting watchdog and being ordered to air a feature which portrays the "real situation" in prison – a feature which "respects people’s intelligence".  We’ve seen PBS be chastised by the same watchdog for refusing to air a right of reply by a PN MP.  And we’ve seen countless other issues.

The PN, for instance, has long been complaining that the state broadcaster had become a government noticeboard and that they were not getting any coverage… the PN’s daily newspaper in fact has featured a pie chart showing how little air-time from the state broadcaster for a number of weeks now.

The latest measure which has raised further eyebrows about what exactly is happening in the state broadcaster – and who is making these things happen – is a directive that all current affairs subjects to be discussed on PBS need to present their topics and list of guests for approval from Saliba at least 15 days before the programme is to be aired.

Now, anyone with a dictionary in a semi-accessible bookshelf would know full well that the term “current affairs” and “at least 15 days before” do not go hand in hand.  In fact, they run completely counter to each other.

The state broadcaster can deny it all they like, but this is a clear attempt to create a system wherein only the more ‘friendly’ topics can be chosen for discussion – something which is more worrying now, when we are so close to a general election.

The PN’s youth wing on Wednesday led something of a political stunt, donning all-red jumpsuit emblazoned with the North Korean flag and comparing the state broadcaster to that of the authoritarian state.

In this case and on this subject, the Nationalist Party has to be praised for its campaign against the clear path of discrimination in favour of the government that the state broadcaster has chosen to follow.

In the meantime, we again appeal for proper reform to ensure that PBS remains THE independent broadcaster. It cannot be viewed by either political party as being ‘controlled’ by the other, otherwise its very purpose is defeated.

There’s plenty of inspiration from across Europe that can be taken on how to properly run a truly independent state broadcaster – let’s just hope that PBS doesn’t keep on taking the North Korean route instead.

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