Help us fight misinformation
Freedom of expression does not give anybody the right to abuse of their TV licence. In fact, television is a highly regulated sector all over the world because it is the most powerful medium. It is consumed passively, even by the most vulnerable members of society, such as children and the elderly. It is not against freedom of expression to ban the advertising of smoking on TV. Similarly, it is not against freedom of expression to demand as much impartiality as possible in political programming.
No other European country has party-owned TV stations. The following countries explicitly ban political parties from owning media companies: Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and the UK. So there is nothing abnormal with disallowing political parties and it does not breach their freedom of expression.
Actually, we are not even saying that the TV stations should close. Those who believe this are already the victims of propaganda against our initiative. All we are saying is that these stations should obey basic laws, like the Constitution, and that the political parties should divest of their ownership in them, even to reduce the financial burden on the parties that inevitably leads to corruption. One TV and Net TV can continue to exist. So can all their employees and programmes. But they should not be owned by political parties and they should strive to be as impartial as possible – not as propagandistic as possible. This is what our Constitution and basic decency rules demand.
It is true that no media is 100% impartial but it is also true that media have an obligation and a duty to be as fair and impartial as possible. Our party media believe they have no such obligation so when they do news or current affairs they are completely propagandistic.
This leads to disinformation which is wrong, even if we know who is behind it. Rape doesn’t stop being wrong because you know who is raping you. Similarly, knowing who owns the stations does not make us immune to the effects of their 24/7 propaganda brainwashing us from when we are very young.
Our political parties both criticise TVM when they’re in Opposition and then exert control over it when they’re in government. They also have a direct interest in undermining TVM because it is a direct competitor to their commercial stations.
Before reforming TVM, the political parties need to divest of their stations. Then they can focus on doing their job as legislators to come up with better regulations. They must start by investing in the Broadcasting Authority but as things stand they will not do that because they have an interest in the Broadcasting Authority being as weak as possible. This conflict of interest must go before real reform can be done.
The belief that Lovin Malta is pro-PN is a perfect example of brainwashing. Those who are most exposed to the party-owned TV stations can only categorise people as ‘red or blue’. From this worldview, independent and impartial journalism cannot exist because Malta only has two tribes.
It is also untrue that only one of these stations is broke. Both have not published their accounts for more than 10 years and both were heavily in debt when they last published these accounts. Most importantly, ending party stations will not harm Labour or PN. It will benefit both parties because it would allow them to focus on their core job: developing good policies for the country.
Myth: Party stations should not be forced to close because many employees will lose their jobs and many good programmes will stop.
Nobody is saying the stations should close. There is no reason for jobs to be lost or for any programmes to be discontinued. We are not saying that One TV or Net TV should stop broadcasting sports programmes, entertainment shows, live mass or anything like that. We are not even arguing that the news or political discussions should stop.
All we are saying is that news and political discussions must obey the Constitution to be as impartial as possible, not as propagandistic as possible. And we are also saying the political parties should no longer own the stations themselves because this creates dangerous conflicts of interests and exposes them to corruption.
If something is wrong and unconstitutional, it does not suddenly become right and constitutional because two parties do it. If two people rob each other, they are both breaking the law. The two crimes do not balance each other out.
In reality, the TV stations cannot balance each other out because they attract different audiences. This emerges clearly from surveys. It also stands to reason since their key news and current affairs programmes have clashing time slots. But even if somebody watched both stations, this does not mean that they are being informed about all diverse views in society because all viewpoints that are not explicitly PN or PL are left out.
Myth: If we remove party stations we will end up like Italy or America where we still have biased stations owned by rich corporations.
There are many countries in the world where broadcasting is done impartially and successfully, where the rules are followed and regulations enforced. In such countries, broadcasting is a big force for good because it has the power to inspire positive actions across the population.
Malta has a historic opportunity to rethink its broadcasting sector and find a way to make it more professional, engaging and legal. We should not limit our potential by resigning ourselves to failures in places like Italy and America. We should learn from these countries instead and make better regulations.