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A Breakdown Of Jon Mallia’s Deep Debate On Political Party Media With Mark Laurence Zammit

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In one of his recent podcasts, Jon Mallia engaged in a interesting debate with Mark Laurence Zammit about whether political party-owned TV stations are distorting the political and media landscape.

The two men stood at opposite sides of the fence.

Mallia was heavily involved in a Kaxxaturi crowdfunding campaign which resulted in Lovin Malta filing a constitutional challenge against political party-owned media.

Meanwhile, Mark Laurence Zammit immediately started the discussion by describing attempts to stop them as “anti-democratic”.

“I’d have a problem if people don’t realise what their agendas are but I don’t believe that people don’t know,” he said. “People know what’s happening in the country, they know what’s right and wrong, but the problem is they don’t have the courage to change their vote or to take a stand against wrongdoing.”

However, Mallia then argued that the problem with party media is far more insidious than their political agendas.

Besides the fact that neither ONE nor NET have published their accounts in over a decade, their existence allows businesses to funnel illicit donations to political parties under the guise of advertising.

This notoriously came to the fore in 2017 when the DB Group’s Silvio Debono had a very public clash with then PN leader Simon Busuttil, publicly stating that “advertising money” to NET was actually intended to pay the salaries of top PN officials.

“The businessman creates a situation where the political party in a position of obligation towards him… they’re basically buying it out.”

“I have a problem with that,” Zammit said.

Then Mallia delved into another major existential issue – the fact that political parties act as both operators and legislators in the media landscape, essentially refereeing the game they’re playing in.

“I get your point, but won’t it be an ugly precedent if one decides that a political party can’t own their own TV station?” Zammit asked.

Mallia responded that Malta is actually an outlier on the global stage in allowing political parties to own TV stations, and that other countries forbid this precisely to avoid a situation of exaggerated closeness between the political and business class.

“The more assets you have in the private sector, the more vulnerable you are to attacks by businesses with more nefarious principles. The legislator shouldn’t have any role at all in the same market they legislate.”

“These stations grew so big because they were allowed to breach so many regulations and now we have this idea that only two narratives [PL and PN] exist in the country. Even if people started understanding the situation, their incumbency will still make people believe there are only two choices.”

Zammit said the solution therefore lies in the state funding political parties but allowing people to freely make their minds up for themselves on which one is giving out a more convincing message.

However, Mallia warned that ONE and NET have completely distorted the market. Not only does the fact they’ve escaped punishment for not filing their accounts given them a huge competitive advantage over other media houses but they also have an ace up their sleeve that no other media house can ever enjoy…

“If I give a business my price for advertising with me, he will think in his mind that with the same price, he can get the same advert on party media, plus the political favours that come with it. So you can’t even compete.”

“There is a conflict,” Zammit conceded.

Lovin Malta’s case is challenging the constitutionality of a proviso in the Broadcasting Act.

The Constitution obliges the Broadcasting Authority to ensure that TV stations preserve due impartiality in matters of political or industrial controversy “as much as possible”.

It also obliges the BA to ensure that broadcasting facilities and time are fairly apportioned between people belonging to different political parties.

However, the Broadcasting Act of 1991 includes a loophole that allows the BA to circumvent this requirement when regulating political party media, with a proviso allowing the authority to monitor impartiality among private TV stations “by looking at the general output of current affairs programmes across all licensees as a whole.”

A website, Kaxxaturi.com, has also been set up to explain the details of the case and why Lovin Malta decided to open it in the first place.

What do you think of party-owned TV stations? 

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Tim is interested in the rapid evolution of human society brought about by technological advances. He’s passionate about justice, human rights and cutting-edge political debates. You can follow him on Twitter at @timdiacono or reach out to him at [email protected]

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