Malta’s national TV station is banned from broadcasting journalist questions during political press conferences unless they are medical bulletins, according to a bizarre directive by the Broadcasting Authority.
This is apparently being done to respect Article 119 of the Constitution that demands due impartiality from Malta’s broadcasting.
After a press conference by Chris Fearne and Charmaine Gauci on the introduction of new COVID-19 guidelines, Television Malta stopped streaming the event before journalists were able to ask questions. They later posted that this was done in order to be compliant with a decision taken by the Broadcasting Authority on the 16th June 2020.
In a statement put forward on their website, the Authority wrote that “in future news conferences, if they are not medical updates […] journalists’s questions should not be broadcast by PBS on TVM or TVM2 as an integral part of the conference and the broadcast should stop with the closing of the speakers’s speech.”
What led to this decision?
The decision was taken by the Broadcasting Authority, formed by representatives of the two major political parties, after the Nationalist Party filed a complaint over a news conference held on the 18th May by Prime Minister Robert Abela, which was broadcast live on TVM for over an hour.
The Nationalist Party said the Prime Minister used broadcasting time to speak at length on issues of policy and political controversy, and did so in a “partisan manner.”
The Party held that this was a “blatant violation” of Article 119 of the Constitution of Malta as well as of broadcasting laws and regulations.
In response to this complaint, the Broadcasting Authority noted that the political comments were provoked by questions from journalists who were asking about the standards commissioner and other political controversies, with most of the broadcast consisting of legitimate information.
The decision thus taken by the authority was that if a news conference is not of a medical nature, questions from journalists will not be broadcasted publicly on TVM or TVM2. However, these questions are allowed to be broadcasted on digital platforms and other services.
The authority went on to provide Adrian Delia with a 10-minute space on TVM to make up for this imbalance, allowing him to put forward any comments he felt necessary to make.
During the hearing, PBS was represented by Mark Vassallo, who is lawyer to the Broadcasting Authority as well as to Keith Schembri. The Nationalist Party was represented by Francis Zammit Dimech.
What’s in the Constitution?
Article 119 of the Constitution states that the function of the Broadcasting Authority is to ensure that “due impartiality is preserved in respect of matters of political or industrial controversy,” with broadcasting facilities and time “fairly apportioned between persons belonging to different political parties.”
Article 119 is the same article referenced in the latest episode of Kaxxaturi which has argued that both party-owned stations Net and One are constantly breaching the Constitution.
Lovin Malta’s Kaxxaturi has been raising awareness on this issue, claiming that party-owned TV stations like One TV and Net TV are “propaganda machines.”
Such TV shows consistently ignore the Constitution through non-impartial viewing.