A potentially major development has just occurred in Malta’s social media landscape after the government agreed that ministers should stop using public funds to boost posts on their personal pages.
The practice has been rampant in recent years, with Lovin Malta revealing in 2018 that millions in taxpayers’ money is being paid to Facebook to ensure posts on ministers’ profiles reach as many people as possible.
Following a request by Lovin Malta’s CEO Chris Peregin, Standards in Public Life Commissioner George Hyzler launched an investigation into the practice.
He found widespread abuse, with ministers and parliamentary sectaries often producing videos solely for their personal Facebook pages, with the use of ministry logos strongly suggesting public funds were used.
Some of these videos also included the minister’s personal logo, blurring the lines between their roles as members of the executive and as politicians.
“It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the production of videos in this manner is a thinly-disguised means for a minister to promote himself and to raise his political profile at public expense,” Hyzler wrote.
After taking a sample of five ministers, Hyzler found that only one of them, Education Minister Owen Bonnici, was displaying good practice, with videos financed by public funds uploaded to the official Edukazzjoni Facebook page and not his own page.
The other four ministers, Ian Borg, Edward Scicluna, Aaron Farrugia and Silvio Schembri, didn’t answer Hyzler’s queries about whether the content of their posts had been produced using public funds and whether it had been published through any official channel before being uploaded to Facebook.
On 3rd April, Hyzler held a meeting with government whip Glenn Bedingfield and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis at their request.
In this meeting, they presented the text of a proposed addition to the code of ethics for ministers and parliamentary secretaries which would disallow them from using public funds to produce material for their social media pages.
“In my opinion, this is a very positive development that indicates the practices described by this report will soon become something of the past,” Hyzler wrote.
“I note with satisfaction that, with the government’s active cooperation, my office’s main function to improve standards in public life has served its purpose here.”
“The Commissioner has closed its case but will base itself on the new guidelines if any more cases involving the use of personal social media accounts emerge.”