NET TV’s failure to publish its accounts for 17 years partially stems from the fact that it went bankrupt in 2013, the head of the Nationalist Party’s TV station has confirmed.
NET’s chief operations officer Karl Gouder was contacted by Euronews as part of a detailed report about a landmark court case opened by Lovin Malta which argues that political propaganda aired by the political parties’ TV stations is unconstitutional.
Euronews also delved into the party media houses’ persistent accounting failures – NET hasn’t published its accounts since 2003 and ONE hasn’t published theirs since 2010.
Gouder admitted it was “totally wrong” that his TV station hasn’t published its accounts in so long and confirmed they pay fines for this breach.
However, he denied this delay was due to the TV station wanting to cover up dodgy funding streams but said it partially stemmed from a major restructuring in 2013 when the media house went bankrupt.
That is the same year the Nationalist Party lost a general election and was relegated to the Opposition for the first time in 15 times.
“To have a television station in Malta, as with everywhere else, costs a lot of money. We run like a company. We don’t get any subsidies from our party. We run our organisation purely commercially,” Gouder said.
“Our income is purely advertising, sale of air time, etc. However, we suffer a lot and I would maybe concede to the fact that the fact we’re owned by a political station might mean that certain advertisers would help the party indirectly by advertising on us.”
By the end of 2003, the last time Media.Link published its accounts, the PN’s media wing had recorded a loss of Lm146,753, around €341,840. Media.Link’s debt stood at roughly €8.4 million.
With high debt ratio in excess of 200%, Media.Link was taking on a large amount of risk, depending on creditors resisting on the repayment of their loans.
Losses were seemingly mounting on the PN, almost doubling from the year before. Unpaid taxes were a serious concern with a total tax expense credit of Lm450,302 (approx. €1,048,900) by the end of the year.
Lovin Malta’s court case argues that political propaganda aired by the political parties’ TV stations is unconstitutional.
Although the Constitution states that broadcasting must be politically impartial, the Broadcasting Act allows the Broadcasting Authority to regulate such impartiality across all private TV stations as a whole.
Essentially, this means political propaganda aired by ONE and NET are deemed to balance each other out, so long as they’re both on air.
Gouder said NET TV would have no problem becoming more politically impartial so long as PBS and ONE do likewise.
“If this challenge is about us simply being more impartial, our situation – as a station and as a political party – is let’s go for it. No problem – just give us the guarantees that all stations, first and foremost public broadcasting and ONE Television, are just as impartial”.
“The reason why we showed our bias more as time passed was because the other party’s station was totally biased. When we are in opposition – we still are – we criticise the government a lot and rightly.”
“But the national station, Television Malta, is totally, totally biased against us. Incredibly biased against us. So, the only way we can get out our voice, show our voice is by obviously giving our version of the events”.
ONE TV’s executive chairman Jason Micallef didn’t respond to Euronews’ requests for comment at the time of publication.
One Productions last published its accounts in 2010, when it reported a loss of €507,479, with its total debt standing at €2,704,029.
Its year-end loss had dropped by around €200,000 from the previous year and its directors were confident that steps were being taken to address the issues. However, its auditors believed that ONE’s conditions at the time cast “significant doubt” about the company’s ability to continue.
Last June, Prime Minister Robert Abela vowed to address this accounting failure.
“We were very busy these last five months. It’s no excuse, but we were working practically 24/7 to get out of this pandemic successfully.”
However, he refused to provide an update when questioned this month, saying he’ll leave it up to the courts in charge of Lovin Malta’s case to decide upon.