The Malta Independent 26 May 2024, Sunday
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TMIS Editorial: Peppi, ‘Love Island’ and the 8pm TVM news

Sunday, 4 June 2023, 10:00 Last update: about 13 months ago

A few days ago, veteran broadcaster Peppi Azzopardi, former producer and presenter of Xarabank, which was one of the longest-standing TV discussion programmes, wrote this on Facebook: “The scandal on TVM is not Love Island, but the 8pm news.”

Azzopardi, whose popular programme was axed by the national station in 2020, incidentally a few months after Robert Abela became Prime Minister, was referring to the fuss that has been surrounding the new reality show that the national station began to air last month.

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Love Island houses couples in search of “love”, with all that this brings with it, given that what they are doing in the villa is being filmed. Many are arguing that such a programme, considering its style and message, should not be aired on a national station. Many believe that this is just another way through which PBS is belittling itself and serving as a helping hand to the government in trying to deflect attention from the many problems the country is facing.

But, like he has done so many times, Azzopardi has gone off at a tangent and brought up a different argument. We should not be worried about Love Island, he indicated in his message, but the way “news” is being presented on the national station.

It is a known fact that the 8pm news bulletin on TVM, run by PBS, is the most watched programme in Malta. It has been like this for decades. So anything that is said and reported there has a widespread following, and has a much greater influence – especially on those who accept what is thrown at them at face value without raising a question – than what is reported on other media. For many, the 8pm news is the only source of information, so anything which is not reported there has “not happened” for them.

The government agenda takes prominence on the 8pm news (and also on all other news services that are produced by the national station, including radio as well as the online platform). The Opposition is given little space, and anything which could hurt the government is played down and presented in such a way as to diminish its significance.

History has taught us that the government of the day has always used PBS as a tool to promote all that it is doing. Today, the Nationalist Party frequently complains of bias in favour of the Labour government. When the PN was in government, the shoe was on the other foot and it was the Labour Party which protested that PBS was showing favouritism towards the PN.

But there have been periods of time that were worse than others. There was a time when the name of the Leader of the Opposition – Eddie Fenech Adami – was not even mentioned on the national station. It happened during the terrible 80s when the Labour Party had retained the seat of power in spite of picking up fewer votes than the Nationalist Party, but had won more seats in Parliament because of the way the electoral system worked at the time.

Today, the Leader of the Opposition’s name – Bernard Grech – is mentioned, but we are not far away from what took place 40 years ago. What has changed is that TVM has become more subtle in the way news is distorted in favour of the government. We repeat, it has happened under all administrations, but now we have possibly reached a new level.

Take the latest example, which has been highlighted by none other than former Education and Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo. In a post on Facebook, Bartolo sarcastically remarked whether TVM was looking for the two Labour mayors who attended and spoke at a protest against over-development, better planning and more respect to the environment. The protest was held yesterday week.

Gzira mayor, Conrad Borg Manche and Qala mayor, Paul Buttigieg spoke out against greed, the need for better protection of the environment, more transparency, the destruction of open spaces, failures by the authorities and other subjects which expose the government’s shortcomings in environmental matters.

But their speeches were not reported on the 8pm news. Both Borg Manche and Buttigieg were shown on TV screens as they addressed the crowd, but the report that was presented to the viewers did not include what they said. In a nutshell, they were censored. Maltese citizens, who get their information only from TVM, do not know that two PL mayors were brave enough to speak out on one of the major issues that are afflicting the nation.

Why did TVM choose to do this? The interpretation is that it did not want to tell the average viewer that the situation with regard to environmental matters is so bad that even two Labour mayors are speaking up about it.

Peppi Azzopardi is right. Love Island is just a distraction, but the TVM news is a much bigger scandal.

 

 

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