Concerns about the political ownership of ONE and NET have been flagged by the European Commission in its latest rule of law analysis of the island.
“Concerns with regard to political party ownership of and influence on the work of several media outlets and broadcasters persist,” the official EU report reads. “The two main political parties represented in Parliament effectively own, control or manage a number of Maltese media outlets and broadcasters, including online news portals.”
It referred to a recent study by the Media Pluralism Monitor, a tool by the EU’s Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, to assess country-specific risks for media pluralism.
“MPM considers that this state of affairs means that these two parties ‘actively contribute towards shaping the working environment for journalists’ while their media outlets are ‘a major influence on public discourse’. This leads MPM 2021 to once more consider political independence of the media to be at acute high risk in the country.”
Moreover, the EU report noted a constitutional case filed by Lovin Malta which is challenging a proviso of the Broadcasting Act that allows ONE and NET to bypass their constitutional obligations towards “impartiality” on the grounds that they balance each other out editorially.
In its report, the EU also flagged the lack of a legal framework regulating state advertising, warning that this lacuna “provides room for abuse both by the Government and by individual politicians”.
It noted a recent investigation conducted by Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler relating to the allocation of public funds for alleged political advertising in print media by OPM Minister Carmelo Abela, as well as draft guidelines Hyzler published last month.
In its official reaction to the EU rule of report, the government didn’t refer to its concerns on political party ownership of media houses whatsoever.
Instead, it noted that the same report also welcomes recent reforms, such as in the system of judicial appointments, the depoliticisation of the appointment of the Chief Justice and the police commissioner, and the transfer of some high-level prosecutions from the police to the Attorney General.
“I’m proud that the mandate Prime Minister Robert Abela entrusted me with has resulted in the European Commission giving us our best report yet, and a good report compared with other member states,” Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said.
“We will keep on working to improve what still needs to improve and to obtain another good report next year.”
However, PN official Peter Agius noted that the report flagged “impartial broadcasting”, but didn’t tell his followers that the EU’s concerns included NET TV.
Do you agree with the findings of this report?