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Government rules the airwaves

It looks as if the Nationalist Party is not thinking straight these days. It is allowing Labour to have a field day, even insofar as communication with the public is concerned.

Adrian Delia is rightly making it a point of meeting as many people as possible to get a better feel of the country’s pulse. He evidently does not want to appear too ‘negative’ in the way he reacts to the government’s sins of commission/omission, one of the main accusations made to his predecessor. But Dr Delia often risks going to the other extreme. Take his party’s new policy on the way it is treating glaring partiality by the national broadcaster.

The party is resorting to what a spokesman called “alternative means” to seek redress whenever it is aggrieved by certain editorial decisions at PBS. “Our complaints are being upheld by PBS and the issues are being raised in various manners, be it a simple phone call, an e-mail or meeting in person,” the spokesman said.

The party appears satisfied that, over the last months, the national broadcaster took action whenever it complained of imbalance or unfair reporting. In its view, this obviated the need to file formal complaints with the Broadcasting Authority. However, the public deserves to know whenever the second largest political party in the country and the government-in-waiting – irrespective of how long the wait will be – feels it is being unfairly treated by the state broadcaster.

Also, the electorate has a right to receive impartial news from the national broadcaster and when it fails it must be held publicly to account by the people’s representatives. Since, for obvious reasons, the government is not ever likely to do this, it is the duty of the Opposition parties in Parliament and, also, of civic society to publicly complain about any shortcomings by the national broadcaster.

With the two major parties having their own radio and television stations, both strictly run on a purely partisan basis, it is doubly essential for the country to have at least the national broadcaster rise above partisanship and provide a truly balanced, credible service.

PBS has distinctly failed to do this under Nationalist and Labour administrations, with both firmly taking it in turn to practically take over the national station when they are in power.

If the Nationalists could be faulted for the manner they allowed PBS to run the stations in their time, there is all the more reason to censure Labour. The imbalance has reached unprecedented heights and the national broadcaster constantly sings from the government’s hymn sheet.

The way PBS tackled the recent European Banking Authority’s report on the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit was a typical example of the way it politically slants news in the government’s favour. The European watchdog found general and systematic shortcomings in the application of anti-money laundering rules but the station chose to resort to gatekeeping for the government. It only picked up the story when the FIAU publicly gave its reaction to it, a shortcoming that surely justified a formal complaint to the Broadcasting Authority.

PBS could serve as an example of a correct, impartial news service provider if it is allowed to operate truly autonomously. Sadly, it has been turned into a mouthpiece of the government of the day.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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