When Lovin Malta was set up five years ago, our plan was to disrupt the media space.
We wanted to reach younger audiences who were no longer connecting with the newspapers, and we wanted to do it in a commercially viable way.
As more people became addicted to refreshing their Facebook newsfeeds on their smartphones, we knew there was potential in content designed around this new reality.
And we realised that the key was to offer more diversity and better quality than anyone else.
We pushed hard on video content, which at that point was very underdeveloped. We tackled subjects that were still taboo like gay marriage, cannabis and the morning-after pill. We embraced celebrity gossip and food reviews, both of which were largely ignored by the rest of the media. And we introduced the concept of sponsored content, which totally innovated the way online platforms could monetise, and was later adopted by all other media outlets.
Within weeks, we became a household name. And things just kept growing from there.
Today, exactly five years later, we have 400,000 followers on social media, including Malta’s biggest Facebook page.
More importantly, we developed a sustainable business model that helped us build one of the island’s best newsrooms, a super efficient video department, an expert digital team and a well-oiled commercial wing that makes it all possible.
Yet, despite all of our success, and despite our disruption of the media landscape which inspired many new platforms to enter the market in the Lovin Malta style, we are still miles away from being the comprehensive, reliable and expert news source this country so desperately needs.
No matter how much great content we produce, it feels like a drop in the ocean compared to what we know we should be doing.
That’s because of a number of things that we could have never predicted when we first launched.
A year after we joined the fray, Malta lost a woman who was easily our most prolific and experienced journalist: Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Her brutal assassination also triggered the unravelling of hundreds, if not thousands, of other leads related to her stories, her murder, its coverup and the political and institutional breakdown that ensued.
And Covid just made things worse, adding an entire new stream of stories that we need to follow every day, while shrinking the advertising budgets that keep us alive.
Today it is more clear than ever that Malta needs good, impactful and well-resourced journalism to fill the infinite gaps left by our political class, our judicial system and the myriad NGOs that are doing their best to fill the lacunae.
Despite the best efforts of Maltese newsrooms, countless court cases are being missed, many human tragedies are not being followed up, the government and the Opposition are not being held to account enough, and an endless list of financial crimes, corruption and misuse of taxpayer money are not being exposed.
What we know today is clearly just the tip of the iceberg, and mostly the result of that fluke leak at Mossack Fonseca’s Panamanian offices back in 2016.
Moneyval has helped. Thanks to the threat of financial ruin, Malta has invested in key institutions like the Financial Intelligence and Analysis Unit and the police’s Economic Crimes Unit, which are already bearing fruit with several arraignments.
But if it took millions of euros to be invested in these institutions to start coping with the financial crime on the island, how much more does the media need to keep up with all that and everything else?
The truth is that Malta’s media landscape is severely underfunded, especially for today’s realities. Journalists are working breathlessly, often burning out too early, resulting in a constant depletion of experience in the sector.
But how can we solve all this without begging for State funding which would diminish the crucial independence of the fourth estate and burden taxpayers?
After working in the business for five years, we feel we have a solution, much like we did five years ago when we knew the media needed a shakeup.
Now that our success has inspired more pluralism, the next step is ensuring Malta’s many media platforms can each find a big enough market share to invest in quality, despite our economy’s limitations.
Here’s how it can be done…
Firstly, we need to tackle the largest advertiser on the island: the taxpayer.
Currently, as the Prime Minister pointed out last week, there are no rules on how the government spends its massive advertising budget. If a minister wants to fund a full-page newspaper ad with their face on it, they can. And they can also use advertising as a carrot and a stick, favouring friendly media and punishing those who uncover their misdeeds.
What we need are strict and transparent rules on how government can advertise. Malta’s media houses should be able to tender for their annual advertising share, knowing there is a set of fair criteria guiding a non-political process.
Secondly, we need the State to stop competing unfairly with the independent media through Public Broadcasting Services, which runs TVM and TVM2.
Currently, PBS is given €6 million per year by taxpayers. Unlike BBC, it is also allowed to compete for the lion’s share of advertising, earning some €3 million per year. And yet, it has become a black hole of debt, to the tune of around €10 million.
Since it competes with the private sector, it also hides behind “commercial sensitivity” whenever it is asked to explain how it is managing to lose so much money despite its State aid and dominant position. And it is this lack of transparency which lets it get away with wasting taxpayer money on creating a product nobody is happy with.
What we need is for PBS to be 100% State funded and fully accountable for every cent it spends, which will probably result in a net saving for taxpayers.
Thirdly, Malta’s private TV space must be freed of the PLPN stranglehold which reduces journalism to tribalistic propaganda, while also distorting the market and depriving the independent media of crucial income.
Instead of competing with the private sector while still running their businesses into the ground, political parties should be given adequate space on TVM and especially TVM2.
This would allow them to get their message across without having to continuously sell their souls to big business.
If these three things are done, Malta’s independent media sector will be able to undergo a massive quality leap. We we will be able to invest in better journalism and more effective content distribution. We will be able to attract and retain more experience, more maturity and more internal checks and balances.
More importantly, this would result in a better political class that is less subservient to big business while being conscious of increased scrutiny by a stronger media.
The ones who will benefit most are honest taxpaying citizens and business owners who desperately want Malta to become a fairer place, which encourages talent and safeguards the vulnerable.
This is the sort of disruption Malta needs today, and so this is what Lovin Malta will be pushing for over the next five years.
To do so, we need your continued support. If you agree with our vision, please share this article as widely as possible.
If you’re able to support us financially, donate to www.kaxxaturi.com where we raise funds to campaign for important social changes.
If you own a business, please continue to support us with your custom, not just to get impactful advertising but also to make sure your advertising spend leaves a positive impact on this country.
And if you have a talent for investigation or storytelling, please consider a career with us.
If we learnt anything in the last five years, it’s that we all need strong, effective and fair journalism.
Our promise is to keep fighting everyday to put things right.