Malta’s strange relationship with politically-owned media is being laid bare in Europe after Labour MEP Alfred Sant questioned the rules guiding the EU’s Prize for Literature, which is intended to be apolitical.
The Labour Party’s publishing house SKS Publishers has criticised the EU’s advice to Malta’s national selection jury to “not consider” a book published by political parties.
This meant that a book by author Aleks Farrugia, who was one of Malta’s five shortlisted books but is published by SKS, was eliminated from the process, together with another two books that were eliminated for other reasons. The final winner has not yet been announced.
Chairman of the national selection committee Albert Marshall told Lovin Malta that the jury did not feel it could object to the directive from Brussels, and understood that “they have their reasons”.
“We could have resigned and refused to give the award but we felt that Brussels could have their bureaucratic reasons for this and it would not be fair to rob the authors of the opportunity to be part of this award,” he said.
He added that Farrugia’s book Ghall-Glorja tal-Patrija (For the Glory of the Fatherland) was an important contribution to Maltese literature.
EU sources told Lovin Malta that it was obvious the European Prize for Literature – which is selected from more than 40 countries – would need to avoid politically-owned publishers.
“You can’t award a prize like this without eliminating publishers owned by political parties. Think of the fallout there would be if the EU awarded a prize to a book published by a Far-Right political party or directly linked to parties that are widely considered to be dictatorial or anti-democratic. It doesn’t make sense,” the source said.
“This issue has highlighted Malta’s divergent views with the EU on political media. What is normal for us, is not normal for the EU institutions,” he added.
SKS has argued that the apolitical requirement featured nowhere in the EUPL’s regulations and accused Marshall’s committee of having “colluded” with the EUPL’s arbitrary decision.
The prize will be awarded this week and Malta’s shortlisted contenders are Papa Aħmed (Pope Ahmed) by Joe Pace and Lara Calleja’s Kissirtu Kullimkien (You’ve Destroyed Everywhere), both published by Merlin Publishers.
Meanwhile, Sant has written a parliamentary question requesting the European Commission to table a full copy of the established regulations and asked whether national panels have exclusive competence over the prize.
The EUPL Consortium wrote back to Sant saying that the EUPL “must be a totally apolitical prize” and this will be specified more clearly in the rules next year since this is an “indispensable” positioning for Europe.
Malta’s relationship with political media is likely to find itself under more EU scrutiny following Lovin Malta’s court case against political ownership of TV stations. Malta is the only country in the EU that has TV stations directly owned by the political parties.
Do you think the EU Prize for Literature should go to books published by political parties?