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The television post-mortem

The EP resolution also highlighted concerns on the political independence of the Maltese media

Yesterday evening our public broadcaster held a supposed ‘post-mortem’ of the European Parliament debate on rule of law in Malta. It showed interviews with the Maltese MEP heads presenting the cases of their opposing sides at the debate, and clips of speeches during the plenary session.

The ensuing panel discussion on Dissett took it for granted that the resolution will pass today (as it did, overwhelmingly). But we were given little insight into the bigger picture of the consequences for Malta, or what might or should happen next, if anything. The analysis of this major debate was defensive and cautious. The discussion seemed more interested in suggesting underlying, negative motives (ie power and money) for some of the points included the resolution.

Underneath the important call for investigation into accusations of money-laundering, it may be lost that the EP resolution also highlighted concerns on the political independence of the Maltese media.

The low standard of debate on Maltese television is nurtured and perpetuated by the framework within which the media operates, dominated by two political party stations and a weak public broadcaster (also crippled by internal problems). Too many of our journalists work under the influence of politicians, and cannot be relied on to provide full and objective analysis of current events. The journalists who speak out independently and fearlessly are conspicuous and may end up being targeted by their detractors.

In Malta in 2017 we still cannot rely on our public broadcaster to organise solid, critical analysis of current events

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder triggered the debate and resolution at the European Parliament. She did not work in television, but the same scenario pervades other media. The pool of strong, independent journalists is so small that they are always at risk of being isolated and singled out.

Public broadcasters in other countries attempt to provide insightful, in-depth analysis and discussion. They exist to inform and serve the public, not governments or political parties. But in Malta in 2017 we still cannot rely on our public broadcaster to organise solid, critical analysis of current events.

On the contrary, prime-time current affairs discussions on PBS are often presented through garbled and confused programmes, like Xarabank among others, where the speakers and presenters all loudly interrupt and shout one another down throughout. Rarely does a coherent argument make it to the surface. The level of debate is abysmal. This has sadly been the case for many years.

The Dissett panel conceded that the inherent weaknesses of some institutions in Malta should be addressed. Our media regulators and institutions are among them. Independent journalism will never thrive in this scenario. The environment within which the Maltese media operates is part of the problem.

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