Update 2: PBS says Labour's attack has to do with audiences
Labour's concerted attack on popular TVM presenters Peppi Azzopardi, Lou Bondi and TVM news has nothing to do with balance in broadcasting but with audiences, PBS said this evening.
It was replying to points raised during a news conference given by the Labour Party this afternoon, in which the PL demanded action by the Broadcasting Authority to rein in PBS which, it said, was breaking the Broadcasting Act with regard to the actions of some of its presenters and reporters.
Party spokesman Gino Cauchi, speaking at a press conference, said a legal notice issued in terms of the Broadcasting Act (clause 19) laid down that reporters and presenters of news and current affairs programmes on the state broadcaster should not reveal their political views or involve themselves in political activities.
The legal notice says: "Those known to the public primarily as presenters of, or reporters on, news programmes or programmes of current affairs broadcast on the Public Service broadcaster must be seen to be impartial. It is important that no off-air activity, including writing, the giving of interviews, or the making of speeches, leads to any doubts about their objectivity on air.
"If such presenters or reporters publicly express personal views off air on controversial issues, then their on-air role may be severely compromised.
"It is crucial that in both their work with the Public Service broadcaster and in other non-public service broadcasting activities such as wring, speaking, or giving interviews, they do not:
"1. state how they vote or express support for any political party;
"2. Express views for or against any policy which is a matter of current party political debate.
"3. Advocate any particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate;
"4. Exhort a change in high profile public policy".
Two weeks ago, Mr Cauchi said, the PL wrote to the chairman of PBS enclosing articles written by presenter Lou Bondi which showed his clear political bias in favour of the PN. More recently, Mr Bondi said, in a Net TV interview, that he would not hesitate in voting PN at the next general election.
Mr Bondi' had every right to write whatever he wished, Mr Cauchi said, but he could not break the law which governed broadcasting. His actions disqualified him from presenting news and current affairs programmes on PBS.
The situation worsened yesterday when it was revealed in court that Xarabank presenter Peppi Azzopardi had coached Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando before a televised press conference less than a week before the 2008 general election.
Mr Cauchi said Mr Azzopardi, through his coaching, had participated in the electoral campaign of the Nationalist Party in a decisive stage of the campaign. Yet this man had even presented debates between the party leaders. Did anyone know if he had actually also coached Dr Gonzi?
This situation was simply unacceptable, Mr Cauchi said. The PL was demanding nothing more than a level playing field on the public broadcasting station.
Mr Cauchi said that personally, he did not expect PBS to rectify the situation. After all, the PBS CEO was Anton Attard, who in March 2008 had been in the PN team which went to the PBS studio for the press conference.
However the PL expected effective action from the Broadcasting Authority as the regulator of broadcasting.
The BA could no longer be passive in this situation but needed to take effective action, Mr Cauchi said.
He did not rule out legal action by the PL.
However, informed sources pointed out to timesofmalta.com that the legal notice quoted by Mr Cauchi provides that clauses 18 and 19 "are not enforceable by the Broadcasting Authority but may be applied by the public service broadcaster."
Mr Cauchi said that this was a self-regulatory measure but the Broadcasting Authority could bring it to the attention of PBS.
PBS said in its statement that Mr Cauchi was probably not aware that things at PBS changed drastically from the time he used to form part of the newsroom.
Mr Cauchi seemed to conveniently ignore the fact that Mr Azzopardi's services have been used by several epople including the leader of the opposition, who used him to draw up the Labour Party Code of Ethics for the media as well as to give seminars to One News journalists on how to convey the message in a more professional way, PBS said.
Moreover, PBS said, the section of the law quoted by Mr Cauchi was not enforceable by the BA.
Yet TVM enforced it when there was some kind of election.
"It is ironic that when Lou Bondi said he was in favour o divorce, the PL sadi nothing because Lou Bondi's position was congruent with Labour."
It said that TVM has continued to improve its audience share in the local broadcasting scnee because it was attracting better quality productions.
These had a negative impact on competing TV stations which lost audiences as well as advertising revenue, which PBS believed was the real reason behind "the harsh orchestrated campaign" against it.