In pursuit of an independent media

The concept of party-owned TV channels is practically unheard of in any other EU member state, if not the entire democratic world. In recent months, a constitutional case was filed against such channels due to their open defiance of the Maltese Constitution, which calls for the obligation of broadcasting services to maintain impartiality. And as we all know, ONE and Net are anything but impartial.

The way that these stations present their ‘news’ is laughable. I will never forget the way that ONE tackled the Central Link protests back in 2019. It was a protest organised by university students against the cutting down of trees to build new roads in Attard. And yet, the media house decided to use a photo of former PN leader Simon Busuttil, an attendee of the protest, to make it seem like a PN-led protest.

And of course, if any newsworthy event were to take place that would make their party look bad, and this news could not in any way be manipulated in their favour, it would simply be omitted from their program. Also, let us not forget that both media houses ONE and Net have not filed their audits for over a decade.

While we’re on the topic of news channels, the state broadcaster TVM is also worth mentioning. While TVM is currently not facing any constitutional cases, one can argue that it does lack a politically independent structure despite its mission to be impartial in reporting. It is an open secret that TVM is an extension of the party in government.

In fact, guidelines that prevent TVM employees from being politically affiliated tend to be ignored. In 2018, for example, TVM presenter Angela Azzopardi Agius was elected on the Labour Party’s executive but was not removed from the station’s schedule. Blurring the lines between party and government reduces accountability and heightens the risk of the manipulation of public opinion.

In fact, just last year, pluralism in Malta’s media was marked as “high risk” in a Europe-wide study. It comes as no shock that party-controlled media would lack a plurality of voices and opinions. TVM was labelled “particularly vulnerable” to political influence due to its ability to influence its Board of Directors, appoint its editorial board and fund the station amounts decided at its own discretion.

As a student myself, I would like to point out that bar a fraction of the Systems of Knowledge syllabus, media literacy is not mentioned at any point in the education system. In this day and age, the ability to identify biased and unbiased media is of utmost importance. Perhaps if this is given more attention, we could raise a generation of critics rather than mindless media consumers, and maybe one day this could lead to a total media reform.

Katrina Cassar
ADŻ Public Relations Officer
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 2 May 2021