There are no anti-trust measures to prevent media concentration in Malta and the share of domestic versus imported media programmes amounts to approximately 80%. Government provides the Public Broadcaster with a budget of EUR 3.2 million (2014) to commission content for television and radio. However, the content value is hotly contested by media analysts and commentators. A report on TV (local) programmes, published in a qualitative survey by Ernst and Young for the Media Desk within the EU Affairs Directorate of the Culture Ministry (June, 2006), highlighted the lack of quality in Maltese broadcasting as well as the fact that on Maltese television, “there is too much teleshopping and not enough education.” Plagiarism (“mediocre copying”) of foreign programmes also came into sharp focus in the Report prepared for the EU Affairs Directorate. On the other hand, there are no specific training programmes for journalists or broadcasting producers, but the University of Malta offers a Communication Studies Course, based largely on theory. The recruitment of media personnel for the two political audio-visual channels, belonging to the Nationalist Party (in Opposition) and the Labour Party (in Government) respectively, depends completely on party affiliation and purchasing power to acquire airtime.
The Broadcasting Act of 1991 abolished the state monopoly over the media and liberalised the market. Afterwards, the two major political parties and the Catholic Church became actively involved in audio-visual production. The liberalisation also led to economic growth, with a significant increase in advertising revenue, and the provision of job opportunities for journalists and broadcasters at private and community stations.
The Public Broadcasting Service has a specific company memorandum that requires the provision of radio and television programmes “of an educational and cultural nature”, as well as programmes that meet the “entertainment needs of the public”. Moreover, the Maltese Broadcasting Authority stresses that public broadcasting should take into account the provision of the best information, education and entertainment, as well as the exploration and “promotion of national identity, social values and culture.”
The diffusion of homogenous mass entertainment became widely criticised because of its purely consumer-oriented approach without any intellectual challenge. Another concern is the politicisation of the media in a country that is already politically and culturally divided.
The Ministry of Education had been operating its own educational broadcasting programmes, while the Public Broadcasting Services, which also belong to the portfolio of the same Ministry, runs the national channel TVM. From 2011, the Education Channel was integrated within the structure of the Public Broadcasting Corporation. In 2013, TVM 2 was launched to focus on cultural, educational and sports programming.
Local councils and small communities, including religious groups, are pushing for more community radio channels. Currently, there are 21 community radio channels (eleven of which belong to Church-related groups) with limited hours on the air per day. There are no definitive quota regulations but surveys have shown that the Maltese maintain a constant preference for locally generated programmes. It is estimated that approximately 65%-75% of prime-time media broadcasting is produced in Malta. There have been intermittent attempts in the media to induce public broadcasting to follow EU recommendations in favour of sub-titling foreign material in Maltese and to introduce more films from EU countries, but the situation remains poorly monitored and positive results have not been forthcoming.
Another area of concern involves children’s programmes, declared by the Broadcasting Authority as being of consistently low quality and mainly used as fillers (Report, 2000). Aware that the situation has remained stubbornly negative, the Broadcasting Authority called a national conference on broadcasting in 2006, where the quality of locally produced material was severely criticised. An audience survey by the Broadcasting Authority itself (2005) has shown that a third of viewers with a tertiary education do not watch any Maltese TV, while two Mediaset (Italian) channels are favourite among younger and more educated Maltese viewers.
To remedy the situation somehow, in 2006, the government allocated 240 000 EUR to improve the local production of children’s programmes. The Culture Ministry also issued directives on how the government’s subvention should be spent. The directives are aimed at “increasing programme quality and offering better service to the public”. Twelve categories of cultural enhancement through broadcasting were identified, including Maltese drama, children’s programmes, religious production, debate and current events.
In a report written by a local media expert for the European Journalism Centre in 2003, it was perceived that “broadcasting in Malta is to expand further”. The impressive advances made by Malta in the information technology sector, including the creation of a fully fledged IT Ministry, may lead to more extensive proliferation of web-based media or dot.com companies.
Malta is a signatory to the Trans-frontier Convention of the Council of Europe and there have been proposals for Malta to become a centre for international broadcasting companies which would transmit from Malta to Europe and the rest of the world.
With the majority of programmes on the national station farmed out to private audio-visual companies, commercialisation has superseded the quality cultural content that any national broadcasting station should achieve. In a recent parliamentary debate, MPs from both political parties agreed that the national broadcasting station needs to increase its promotion of culture and that a national review of national broadcasting should lead to a dedicated channel on culture and sports. An audit report had recently found PBS was under-funded, especially in drama programmes which were not necessarily backed up by advertising, which had dropped by some 30% or EUR 3 million.
In order to encourage private television stations to develop and promote cultural content, Budget 2015 introduced a new allocation of EUR 300 000.
Relevant cultural policy actions:
- the Broadcasting Authority and Public Broadcasting Services shall actively support initiatives to fully realise the potential of the media to improve access to culture; and
- the Ministry shall bring together all stakeholders of the audiovisual industry to develop a framework strategy for the audiovisual sector, taking into consideration issues pertaining to broadcasting, state aid, training, capacity building, film and cinema.