A draft bill to force public and national broadcasts to be completely independent of the state is set to head for a vote in the European Parliament.
If the bill gets the green light, the effects will bleed on Malta’s National broadcaster PBS which is known to be in close cahoots with Malta’s government, and has been the subject of media controversy for decades.
As part of the wider European Media Freedom Act, this law will ensure that all public broadcasters possess full autonomy and editorial independence from governmental, political, economic or private interests.
A push on transparency
MEPs also look to cap public advertising allocated to a single media provider, online platform or a search engine to 15% of the total advertising budget by that authority in a given EU country.
Member states would also need to finance public service media via multiannual budgets, to prevent political interference and ensure budgetary predictability.
MEPs amended the rules on audience measurement systems in order to make them fairer and more transparent.
Media outlets will be obliged to publish information on who owns them and on whoever benefits from it, directly or indirectly in order to assess media independence. MEPs also want them to report on state advertising and state financial support, including when they receive public funds from non-EU countries.
Media service providers would also be forced to report on any potential conflict of interest and on any attempts of interference in editorial decisions.
“The European Media Freedom Act aims to establish greater diversity, freedom, and editorial independence for European media outlets,” said German MEP and rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (EPP).
“Media freedom is seriously under threat in several EU countries – this is why the new law needs to pack a punch, not just pay lip service. We strengthened the Commission’s proposal to significantly safeguard media independence and protect journalists while at the same time not weakening our unique cultural differences.”
Speaking of journalists, this bill also seeks to beef up protection for those working in the press.
In the historic adopted text, the MEP committee bans all forms of interference and pressure on media, including forcing journalists to disclose their sources, accessing encrypted content on their devices and using spyware against them.
Malta’s historic court case against politically-owned media
In 2021, Lovin Malta and former CEO Chris Peregin filed a constitutional case challenging the constitutionality of a proviso in the Broadcasting Act which allows the regulator not to monitor political party-owned TV stations for impartiality.
This proviso allows the Broadcasting Authority to monitor impartiality among private TV stations “by looking at the general output of current affairs programmes across all licensees as a whole”.
In practice, this has seen the BA continue to regulate TVM for political impartiality but not apply the same principles to ONE and NET.
While a constitutional court case is ongoing, a recent court ruling noted that the BA should regulate for partiality across all TV stations, which independent MP Cassola said means independent and third-party politicians should now be invited to shows on PBS, ONE and NET.
A website, Kaxxaturi.com, has been set up to explain the details of the case and why Lovin Malta decided to open it in the first place.
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