National broadcaster TVM implements newsroom management change to be in line with European Broadcasting Union rules

Following a slew of complaints against the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) newsroom’s direction since Norma Saliba took over in July 2020, the state broadcaster has decided to bring itself in line with European Broadcasting Union (EBU) rules and requirements by separating the roles of editor and heads of news.

Saliba’s departure as editor, while keeping her post as head of news, would leave her in charge of the day-to-day operations of the PBS newsroom, which serves as a hub for Television Malta and Radio Malta news bulletins, as well as their online web news portal.

PBS’s former acting CEO, engineer Charles Dalli, who is now serving as chief operations officer responsible for research, innovation, and internationalisation, will now be assigned the newsroom’s editorship as part of a restructuring exercise, following a career of several roles with the national broadcaster over the years.

Since the 1990s, the duties of editor and head of news at PBS have been amalgamated. Complaints about PBS have escalated significantly since Saliba took office from the previous occupant, prominent journalist Reno Bugeja. The Nationalist Party has often claimed that PBS is not unbiased in its reporting, arguing that the station’s political agenda is controlled by the government.

Several international press freedom assessments have criticised the state broadcaster for its partiality toward the government in its reporting. In August last year, the ‘Times of Malta’ stated that TVM journalists were permitted to undertake little “real” journalism and were prohibited from pursuing subjects that would embarrass the government.

As the national broadcaster has suffered significant losses in recent years, primarily as a result of mismanagement and overstaffing, Charles Dalli (who began his career as a ONE Tv employee) was relieved of his CEO role in April of last year and replaced by IT entrepreneur Dr Mark Sammut, who has no broadcasting or journalism experience.

Sammut worked as an IT consultant for disgraced former European Commissioner John Dalli and owns multiple IT firms. Together with his wife, Carmen nee’ Portelli, they have often made headlines for their dubious connections with the Labour Party, which has been handed lucrative direct orders by the government in recent years.

Dr Sammut took over for University of Malta academic and pro-rector Prof Carmen Sammut, who had years of experience working as a journalist at PBS as well as a PhD in journalism and was hired barely six months before Mark Sammut was named executive chairman.

Prime Minister Dr Robert Abela promised to modernise the national broadcaster when he took office in January 2020. However, popular shows such as the long-running Friday night primetime talk show ‘Xarabank’ have been removed from the air, and a number of journalists have departed the newsroom.

The Centre for Media, Data, and Society produced a study last year that examined the editorial independence of the world’s public media. PBS, Malta’s national broadcaster, was categorised as ‘state-controlled media’ by the report’s researchers — the most worrying of the report’s seven-tier spectrum.