Four independent media companies have written to the Prime Minister with urgency ahead of a parliamentary discussion on broadcasting law amendments being adopted this week, following EU Directive 2018/1808, which ignores the unique broadcasting situation in Malta.
“We are highly concerned by how this law will further threaten media pluralism in Malta which is already considered to be at a high risk. This law leaves no room for independent online audiovisual news and current affairs programmes to sustain their operations financially,” the letter signed by the directors and owners of Lovin Malta, MaltaToday, Times of Malta and Malta Independent states.
“While TV stations can monetize such programmes by selling advertising airtime in various slots around and during programmes, this is not a possibility for online shows since video-sharing platforms like Facebook and YouTube do not allow for this type of advertising, opting instead for transparent paid partnerships which are more appropriate to today’s content and commercial requirements.”
“While we acknowledge the need to create a level-playing field between TV producers and online producers, we feel that simply replicating outdated TV regulations and imposing them on online platforms is highly discriminatory.”
The media organisations argue that regulation should seek to increase transparency, quality and media pluralism. This law simply stops online news and current affairs programmes in their tracks, at a time when any modern democracy depends on independent journalism more than ever.
“In transposing this EU directive, Maltese legislators must consider the local context and see what other mechanisms can be put in place to counteract any negative impacts. It must be said that Malta has a unique situation where independent producers of audiovisual news and current affairs must already compete in a context of unfair competition.”
“Our three main broadcasters compete for advertising revenue even though one of them is a State broadcaster that enjoys public funding, and the other two are subsidized by political parties and their anonymous donors, allowing them to sell advertising for political influence directly or indirectly. Indeed in many other EU countries, State broadcasting both TV, radio and online is not permitted to carry advertising from the private sector.”
The media organisations also pointed out the problematic set up of the Broadcasting Authority which is appointed by the two main political parties which have an inherent conflict of interest and are not the right arbiters to oversee (if this is indeed a requisite) independent current affairs productions.
“A perfect example of this is when the BA, which is Constitutionally-obliged to ensure impartiality, allows political party stations to broadcast propaganda-filled news and current affairs programmes, on the pretense that they cancel each other out,” the letter said.
The organisations called for the postponement of the enforcement of the new regulations of the EU Directive until Malta regularises its position when it comes to the setup of the Broadcasting Authority, the nature of the national broadcaster and the legality of political party stations.
“We also urge the government to come up with public funding mechanisms for online producers of news and current affairs to be able to create such programming sustainably and in conformity with the law.”
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