Political party stations may seem like part of the furniture of Malta’s media landscape, but the Prime Minister who made their existence possible in the first place never intended them to last forever.
Back in 1998, while the PN was still setting up NET TV, Eddie Fenech Adami made it clear that he envisages their eventual redundancy. In an interview with then NET TV anchorman Pierre Portelli for his thesis, Fenech Adami said the establishment of NET TV should eventually lead to both political parties feeling they don’t need to own their own stations.
The Labour Party had already set up ONE TV four years earlier, after the then Nationalist government opened up broadcasting laws in 1991 in an attempt to decentralise the flow of information from the state broadcaster.
However, Fenech Adami said political media ownership was a “transitional phase” until the management of parties matured to a point where the parties wouldn’t need to own their own stations anymore.
Then Labour leader Alfred Sant disagreed though, arguing that “the right” controlled communications in Malta and “the left” therefore needed a party station of its own to maintain some sort of balance.
And qualitative data gathered by Portelli, who would eventually go on to lead NET between 2017 and 2019, showed that while PN officials felt they needed NET to counter ONE, Labour officials believed they needed ONE to counter a pro-PN slant on PBS and the independent press.
Twenty two years have passed since Fenech Adami’s statement and NET and ONE are not only still present, but remain the only two major Maltese TV stations besides the national broadcaster. If this is what Fenech Adami meant by a transitional phase, then it’s a pretty long one…
Malta is also the only EU country where political parties own their own TV stations.
The Labour and Nationalist parties also appoint all five members to the board of the Broadcasting Authority, which regulates TV stations and is supposed to ensure they observe their constitutional obligation of impartiality when presenting news and current affairs programs.
Party media have historically circumvented this obligation by arguing that the bias of ONE and NET cancel each other out, but the Broadcasting Authority’s CEO Joanna Spiteri said in her thesis that this argument doesn’t hold water.
Lovin Malta is set to launch a constitutional case against party-owned TV stations, on the grounds that political coverage by ONE and NET goes against the Constitution, the right to freedom of information, and the basic rules of fair competition.
Cover photo: A NET TV fundraiser this year to celebrate Eddie Fenech Adami’s birthday.
Do you think there’s a future for political party stations in Malta? Let us know what you think in the comment section