Taxpayers have forked out a combined €360,000 – not including advertising – to the media organisations owned by Malta’s two political parties. This means the propaganda arms of the parties have taken the lion’s share of the government’s aid package to media houses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malta Enterprise’s guidelines for this aid, acquired by Lovin Malta through a Freedom of Information request, show that TV media providers are entitled to up to €45,000 a month, with the current version of the scheme running between March and June.
They refused to provide a breakdown of the aid provided to media houses so far, citing confidentiality clauses, a decision Lovin Malta is challenging.
Media.Link Communication’s chief operations officer Karl Gouder confirmed that the PN media made use of the package while attempts to contact ONE Production’s executive chairman Jason Micallef have been unsuccessful as of the time of writing.
Media houses suffered a blow during the pandemic as the forced closure of several businesses limited their access to advertising, and Malta Enterprise responded to their woes by making aid available to media houses which employ at least four full-time journalists.
This aid package is in line with EU state aid law and does not include money paid by the government for advertising.
Prime Minister Robert Abela referred to this package during an interview with Lovin Malta, in which he described it as a small sign of the government’s belief in the importance of the press.
“We strongly sustained the media during the pandemic to ensure that the government is scrutinised and that the people receive factual information,” he said. “Despite this financial package being so strong, it came with no strings attached. I want to be scrutinised by the independent media.”
What Abela failed to say is that the lion’s share of this aid is actually going to party media.
Indeed, while TV stations are receiving €45,000 a month, newspapers are receiving €10,000. This means ONE Productions and Media.Link are each receiving more per month than all four Maltese independent newspaper houses (Allied Productions, MediaToday, Standard Publications and Union Print) combined.
Meanwhile, online news portals like Lovin Malta are entitled to €5,000 a month while radio media providers are entitled to €3,500. Media houses which provide a news service on more than one portal or channel are entitled to €10,000, the same as newspapers.
This aid comes amidst a national discussion on whether party’s media, oftentimes seen as political propaganda, should continue to be allowed in Malta.
Lovin Malta’s show Kaxxaturi has raised over €7,500 to mount a court case against Malta’s party-owned TV stations, arguing that political coverage by ONE and NET goes against the Constitution, the right to freedom of information, and the basic rules of fair competition.
The Constitution demands impartiality from news and current affairs broadcasts and party media have historically attempted to circumvent it by arguing that ONE and NET cancel each other out.
However, the Broadcasting Authority’s CEO said in her thesis that this argument doesn’t hold water.
The Nationalist Party last year proposed scrapping both political media stations as part of a widespread media reform which would see PBS transformed into a fully independent national broadcaster.
Yet the Labour Party has poured cold water over this idea, arguing that a stance in favour of media pluralism should also include a defence of the political stations.
“I believe a political station should be able to restore a balance in messaging, a certain neutrality in messaging that might not be communicated in others’ messaging,” Abela said last Sunday.