Broadcasting in Malta – Safeguarding the Public Interest
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Broadcasting Authority that came into existence on 29th September 1961 when the Broadcasting Ordinance, Ordinance XX of 1961, was brought into force under Admiral Sir Guy Grantham. The Malta Broadcasting Authority, as it was originally known, replaced the Government Broadcasting Board, and in 1964, the Authority was upgraded to a Constitutional authority and renamed Broadcasting Authority.
It was the run-up to Independence. Radio services had been in service since 1935 with the set-up of the company Broadcast Relay (Service) Malta Ltd., which in 1955 changed its name to Rediffusion Malta Ltd. As from 28th September, 1961 this company also had the obligation to develop all forms of broadcasting including visual. In fact, a year after the set-up of the Malta Broadcasting Authority, television broadcasts started.
From the outset the primary regulatory function of the Broadcasting Authority was that of ensuring impartiality and balance in sound and television broadcasts, and with independence in 1964, the Authority was given sovereignty through Articles 118 and 119 of the Constitution of Malta.
In September 1990 a White Paper was published setting out proposals for a new framework enabling the expansion of radio and television services in Malta based on the concept of pluralism. A draft broadcasting bill was presented to Parliament on 8th March 1991 and, after 22 parliamentary sessions, the new bill was enacted and brought into effect on 1st June 1991. And thus, the Broadcasting Ordinance of 1961, which had regulated the broadcasting sector for the previous 30 years, was repealed by the Broadcasting Act 1991 which introduced pluralism in broadcasting.
The early years – 1961-1971
The Broadcasting Authority was set up during a period when an interim constitution was operative and provided for an Executive Council under the British Rule. It was a time of struggle for Malta’s independence, a time when every effort was also being made by the rulers to safeguard British foreign investment on these islands, and amid a political-religious struggle between the Church and the MLP in 1961.
From the start, the Broadcasting Authority’s role was that of the country’s broadcasting regulator. As from 29th September 1961, all sound and television broadcasting services in Malta (except those broadcast by the armed forces hosted in Malta) became the exclusive responsibility of the Authority. These services were to be exclusively supplied by contractors appointed by the Authority. Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd., formerly Broadcast Relay Service (Malta) Limited, was locally set up in 1935 with the aim of countering Fascist propaganda from Italy. Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd. had operated wired sound broadcasting in Malta since 1935 under successive licences from the Governor. This service had progressively grown to the daily average broadcast of thirty-four hours of programming on two channels. Not only was Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd. granted the licence to develop all forms of broadcasting on 28th September 1961 but it was also granted an extension for 25 years of its licence for cable radio broadcasts when the previous licence was due to expire four years later.
Before this date, Rediffusion broadcast mainly programmes of an entertainment and general interest nature. The Department of Information was responsible for Schools Broadcasting and informative programmes on this service while the Government Broadcasting Board, a separate body, was responsible for a regular series of unscripted discussions and for Party Political Broadcasts.
Broadcasting Authority in 1961 at 12 , Old Treasury Street, Valletta.
The provisions of the Ordinance of 1961 laid down much stricter standards with regard to content and quality. Although this Ordinance was modelled and compared to the UK’s Independent Television Act of 1954 for the setting up of the Independent Television Authority in UK, the Ordinance introduced the concept of news and current affairs programmes in Malta. Although the main functions of the Authority were that of a supervisory and regulatory body charged with safeguarding general broadcasting standards in the public interest, unlike its counterpart in the UK, these services were to be provided by its contractors without prejudice to the right of the Authority to provide the services itself. In fact, the Ordinance also stipulated that the Authority was to spend each year the sum of £10,000 and £25,000 respectively on Wired Sound and Television broadcasting – unlike the Independent Television Act of UK.
The first meeting was held at The Palace, Valletta on Monday 2nd October 1961 under the Chairmanship of Lt. Col. G. C. Micallef-Eynaud. The Authority’s offices were at 12, Old Treasury Street, Valletta, and the first staff was seconded from Government to the Broadcasting Authority. This included the Secretary to the Authority, Mr. Bellizzi, and his assistant, Mr. Ellul, together with a shorthand-typist (Ms Bugeja) and a messenger (Mr. Caruana). The premises in Valletta were rented at £345 per annum and the lease ran for three years certain and a further three years at the Authority‘s option.
With immediate effect, the Authority took control of the Schools Broadcasting in collaboration with the Department of Education, and of Party Political and General Election broadcasts. Rediffusion was required to undertake a comprehensive local news service starting with a daily (five days a week) thirty minutes programme of news and views on current events supplemented by a weekly discussion programme in line with the programmes initiated by the previous Government Broadcasting Board. This ran into numerous difficulties as reported in the Authority’s First Annual Report – “A difficult political situation plus unfamiliarity with an independent impartial service of considerable difficulty and often controversy particularly in the matter of selection” of subject matter for discussion and news items reported.
The Authority also reported in its First Annual Report that certain sections of opinion holders of the population just “refused to take part in views concerning the political and constitutional situation of the country”. On the other hand, they were then “very quick in alleging bias of those who participated in such programmes”. While some of the opinion holders were “reportedly shy of self-expression” on this new service, on the other hand other opinion makers were “very suspicious of free comment and of the views of those who differ from them politically”. There was “an ingrained reluctance in Malta, not restricted to any particular section of society, to discussing matters of disagreement on the air. Too often the subjects discussed seemed to be of minor importance in comparison with the real issues at the moment”.
SCHOOLS BROADCASTING AND EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMES
Educational Programmes organised by the Broadcasting Authority on Television
Aħseb Mitt Darba – MTV – 14th February 1968; 7:30pm
| |Team A – St. Michael’s Training College
C. Vella Haber; P. Briguglio;
| |Team B – University/Junior College
C. Caruana; M. Borda; T. Borg Barthet; Ph. Sciberras
On the other hand, the same could not be said with regard to religious programmes broadcast on Rediffusion and which were considered highly important by local listeners. In spite of great effort put into the production of religious services from different parts of the islands, nothing could convince those taking part in broadcast religious services and ceremonies that the nature of the medium required greater thought and discipline in their representation. “The basic fact that a broadcast ceremony is not the same as a ceremony which was not broadcast” was difficult to conceive by those taking active part in such productions.
Religious broadcasts were already being aired by Rediffusion before the inception of the Broadcasting Authority, and the first step taken in 1961 by the Malta Broadcasting Authority was to invite the Catholic Religious Advisor of the BBC, Fr. Agnellus Andrew O.F.M., to visit Malta and report his impressions on the local broadcasting scenario of such programmes. He reported that “the occasional outside broadcast of rallies or functions … are much too long, too diffuse, and too unorganised for good broadcasting … with the speakers, particularly if they are lay and inexperienced, carried away by the emotion of the moment … and involve the broadcaster, who has editorial responsibility, in grave difficulties.”
This was the broadcasting scenario of such religious programmes – “it was unsuitable for broadcasting, merely being a skimming of the sound off the top of a ceremony not designed for sound, and requiring physical presence in the building for full understanding. The panegyrics were quite the wrong style for broadcasting, the music was exceedingly florid, and the work of the orchestra and singers not of high quality. But the chief impression was that the whole thing had essentially no real religious effect at all”.
The same, however, cannot be said with regard to school broadcasting on Rediffusion. This had previously been organised by the School Broadcasting Unit within the Department of Education. Although the Authority could pass over the responsibility for the production of such programmes to its contractor, the Authority assumed full responsibility and financing of all School Broadcasts which were designed primarily for Government Schools. The Department of Education still supported them when the Broadcasting Authority took over. The Authority immediately set up its Schools Broadcasting Advisory Committee with the Director of Education, Chev. J. P. Vassallo O.B.E., acting as chairperson while the other members of this advisory committee acted themselves in a number of vetting panels – one for each subject taught in schools – to scrutinise each script before it was broadcast. Such members included not only headmasters, teachers and inspectors from the Department of Education but also members of the Committee of the Malta Union of Teachers, of the Private Schools Association, and representatives of His Grace the Archbishop.
For the scholastic year 1962/63 the school broadcasting programme consisted of 221 scheduled broadcasts made up of 39 Friday morning broadcasts, 25 programmes for stages and Class I; 49 programmes for Classes II–III; 61 programmes for Classes IV-V; and 47 programmes for Classes VI and school leavers. The School Broadcasting publication “The Young Listener” was “rendered more attractive … stitched, trimmed and printed on better quality paper … and every effort was being made to furnish listeners with the visual material required as background and complementary to the broadcasts”. An average of 23,000 copies of the magazine was sold per month and this represented 81% of the buying potential of the schools.
The early years – 1961-1971 [Television]
The day before the Ordinance setting up the Malta Broadcasting Authority was signed by the Governor, Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd. was given exclusive broadcasting rights for twenty-five years for cable radio, while, at the same time, a subsidiary was also set up, Malta Television Service Ltd., for the development and operation within fifteen months of a television service having broadcasting rights for the next twenty-five years. Malta Television Service Ltd. was also given the task of setting-up and operation within five years, with broadcasting rights for the following ten years, of wireless sound broadcasting.
Television started in 1962 with an average of 4½ hours of daily broadcasts; out of which 24.4% or 7.11 hrs per week, were local productions while the rest were direct imported recorded programmes. The Authority’s contribution to television broadcasts concentrated on Party Political Broadcasts and Ministerial Broadcasts; and on two programmes “Ritratt” and “Youth Want to Know”. Although no data was found recording the actual number of viewers, the Authority reported at the end of March 1963 that this new service was listened to extensively in Malta and Gozo and the total number of TV licences issued increased drastically and was in excess of 19,000. By the end of 1964, there were 24,490 combined radio and television licences, 39,943 Rediffusion receivers and 8,488 radio licences while the number of wireless sets in use was estimated to be in the region of 24,000 radio sets - Government revenue from wireless licence fees rose from £21,847 for 1960/61 to £98,000 for 1964-65.
Following the election of 1962, the Legislative Assembly was composed of five political parties and the total available broadcasting time was distributed according to each party’s strength in the Assembly. Party Political Broadcasts recommenced on radio, while prolonged negotiations with the political parties preceded the new broadcasting scheme on television. The total broadcasting time for such broadcasts was shared between the two platforms of radio and television in the ratio of 5:2 respectively. Since the Malta Television Service was not as yet equipped with recording facilities, such broadcasts were first scripted and then read live. The Authority, on the other hand, emphasised that all TV broadcasts were to be rehearsed beforehand for timing purposes and that speakers were not to depart from the original script.
From a technical point of view, although sound broadcasting had been in operation since 1935, it is amply clear that local knowledge was lacking, quite often requiring cooperation from foreign broadcasters at a high cost. During the independence celebrations, there was close cooperation with the outside broadcast unit of RAI which made the broadcast of three major events of these celebrations possible: the handing over of the instrument of Independence; the State Opening of Parliament by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh; and the schoolchildren’s rally in the Independence Arena. The same arrangements were made for the Queen’s visit in November 1967 where extensive live coverage was given to many of the events of the Royal Visit.
The first Maltese drama written for television, was first screened on 22nd March 1964 and this was “an intricate and costly business and the amount of hard work and rehearsing which goes into even the simplest play is much greater than is generally realised” (B.A. Third Annual Report covering the year ended 31st March 1964). This was only possible after an “experienced BBC producer was brought over by MTV … for a three months’ instructional and training programme” after the completion of the New Studios in 1963 and the transfer from Rediffusion House requiring the “cessation of ‘live’ studio productions for a period of five weeks”.
On the other hand, the first full-Maltese contingent working in broadcasting was that of the Engineering Department, including the Chief Engineer of Rediffusion. In 1964 the Department laid a total of 22,000 yards of Rediffusion cable.
The first regulations on Public Service Broadcasts were first agreed with Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd. and MTV in 1964 in which the broadcasting of SOS and Police Messages was governed, including that of a number of slogans and short films urging the public to Keep the Beaches Clean, to Save Water, and to observe Traffic Regulations. Public Notices issued by the Government were part of an agreed list of daily broadcasts by Rediffusion.
The Authority: March 1965
From Left to Right: Mr. G. Muscat Azzopardi; Dr. V. A. Mercieca LL.D.; Mr. J. A. Manduca (Chief Executive); Judge A. Montanaro-Gauci C.B.E., K.M., LL.D. (Chairman); Mr. A. J. Ellul (Secretary); Rev. Fr. P. Serracino Inglott B.A., B.D., M.A. (Oxon); Mr. J. Vella.
Although much seems to have been attained during the first few years of the Broadcasting Authority, “the financial clauses in the Broadcasting Ordinance … were … meaningless, and the amount given to the Authority each year … was …quite inadequate. Several of the powers conferred on the Authority … were … negative in character … while there were … several other provision of the Ordinance which needed to be revised … and which in their present form, and in view of the Authority, …were … either defective or not in keeping with the spirit of the Constitutional provisions on broadcasting” – (B.A. 1965-66).
The Authority was not only critical of the use of media services available but also verbosely critical of certain Government decisions. The Broadcasting (Amendment) Act 1966 introduced by Government deprived the Authority of its exclusivity in providing sound and television broadcasting services as these were extended to the Government or to “any person, body or authority under licence from or under arrangements with the Government”. This is still carried today as Government continues to license the public service broadcaster’s radio and television stations and has only lately empowered the Authority to license digital radio (2007) and satellite broadcasts (2009).
Another article of this amendment to the Broadcasting Act also gave the power to Government to appoint a Chief Executive and to dictate the recruitment and conditions of employment of the Authority’s staff. It was only in 1999 that the Authority appointed for the first time in its history its own Chief Executive Officer. Even the appointment of the Authority itself used to be made for short periods of six months, then one year, and more recently for three years even though the Constitution allows such appointment to be made for up to five years.
The Authority’s finance, or lack of it, was problematic from the start. The Broadcasting Ordinance clearly stated that all licence fees paid by the public were to be channelled back into broadcasting – after the deduction by Government of £15,000 for the collection of these fees. But then, the Authority was also burdened by the contracts which it inherited on inception and had to spend a minimum of £35,000 on sound and television programming each year and to pay normal charge rates for programmes, broadcasting time and facilities to its own contractors. As reported in the Authority’s Annual Report for 1965-66 “revenue accruing … from licence fees and customs duty on radios and television sets continue to grow. Licence fees are increasing on average at the rate of £10,000 a year and the Authority estimated that revenue from this source will exceed £120,000 during 1966-67.”
The Authority’s main contention is that the sequence of the main events establishing Broadcasting Services in Malta in 1961 were erroneous, … as the agreements which were to establish Malta’s broadcasting services were negotiated and signed between the Colonial Administration and Rediffusion before the Authority came into being.(Broadcasting Authority Annual Report and Accounts 1971/72).
One of the agreements was for the setting up of a wireless service in Malta or Radju Malta as it become commonly known. This agreement included two fundamental sections: the first that the service had to start within a period of five years and not later than the 29th September 1966; and secondly, that the operator, Malta Television Service Ltd. had exclusive rights for a period of ten years on the date that it was signed (i.e. up till 29th September 1971), after which the contract was still binding for a further 15 years but with no exclusive rights.
However, in view of negotiations with Government on the future of this service, Malta Television Service Ltd. decided to ask for an extension of its commencement date with negotiations starting in November 1967. After six months, following a request from MTV and after consultation with the Government, it was agreed to extend the period during which the Company may start a wireless service to 28th March 1969. This was further extended to 28th March 1970, to 28th September 1970, and to 28th March 1971 during which latter period negotiations were suspended when Government acquired a radio station that was to be set up by a German broadcasting organisation – the Deutsche Welle – a diplomatic wireless station at Delimara being granted, at the same time, a licence to operate a relay service from Malta. Test transmissions were inaugurated on 23rd July 1971.
At the time it was felt that the Authority should move closer to its main contractor at Gwardamangia. Various other government properties were sought and on the appointment of Mr. Joseph Grima on 2nd November 1971 as Chief Executive of the Broadcasting Authority, a post which had been left vacant since November 1968, and the appointment of a new Board on 31st March 1972 under the chairmanship of Chev. J. P. Vassallo O.B.E., the Authority held its meetings at its new offices at National Road, Blata l-Bajda.
This was the start of a nationalization period with the first involving directly the Broadcasting Authority. In May 1972 when Malta changed over to a decimal currency and abandoned its old system of pounds, shillings and pence, 520 spots of advertisements on sound and 284 spots on television were broadcast by the Authority on national services. Several half-hour slots were also shown on television for adult education programmes in connection with the decimal currency switch-over.
Offices of the Authority at National Road, Blata l-Bajda
Undated photo of Schools educational visits to the Authority and to Radju Ta’ Malta
with Mr Laurence Mizzi, Head of Radju Malta (right)
During the impasse between the British and Maltese Governments, the BBC direct relays for news, current affairs and information re-broadcast on the English language network of Rediffusion gave rise to a number of problems, especially when current affairs programmes, which are open to comment, became a subject of inequitable comment by BBC producers. At the same time, news coverage became open to station comment as these became intertwined in the same news bulletin, thus misleading listeners when comments and facts were reported as one. There have been instances when the Authority complained to its contractors about the news service, particularly in the reporting of certain political events (B.A., 1972-73). Various meetings were held between the Authority and its contractors, always acting within the limitations imposed by the broadcasting agreements and the Broadcasting Ordinance. The Authority, however, was unwilling to allow present problems to perpetrate themselves endlessly without attempting to find a solution. (B.A, 1972-73).
The next major development in broadcasting was the setting up of Radju Malta by the Broadcasting Authority through the exercise of such powers given to it by Section VI of the Broadcasting Ordinance, enabling the Authority to set up its own broadcasting services. Radio Malta, in fact, opened from temporary studios at Blata l-Bajda on 8th January 1973 with an average of four programme hours daily [10:00 am to noon and 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm and included two daily news bulletins; music; cultural programmes; a daily programme for women; a programme on Gozo; and weekend coverage of local and international sporting events]. It made use of the Deutsche Welle transmitter at Nigret. It has been firmly established that transmissions from Radio Malta were well received in Tripoli, Tunis and the whole of Sicily (B.A., 1973-73). Quadripartite talks between Libya, Italy, Tunisia and Malta were held which resulted with Libya donating transmitting equipment in November 1973 while Italy accepted to provide an antenna for Radio Malta.
Within six weeks from the arrival of the new equipment, Radio Malta transmissions were extended from four hours daily to twelve and, on 1st April 1974, the service was further expanded to seventeen hours of locally originated programmes daily.
Within a year from the transmissions of Radio Malta 1, use of the former diplomatic wireless station at Delimara was made and Radio Malta 2 started transmissions, also on the medium wave, broadcasting music and news on 99.7 MHz while Radio Malta International started broadcasting on 75.5 MHz.
By the end of 1973 it was estimated that 50% of households interviewed had at least one radio set (either in the house itself as a movable set operating on mains, or installed in a car or in the form of a portable transistor radio); 13% owned two sets; 4% owned three sets; and 1% owned four radio sets – 53,000 households in total . Rediffusion was present in 67% of households – 1% lower at 52,400 households in total; while only 9% of the population neither had a radio set or a Rediffusion set. A “Rediffusion Advert published in the Commercial Courier of 8.10.73 states that ‘Rediffusion is installed in 53,833 homes, hotels and restaurants in Malta’. Assuming that between 500 and 1000 of these are in hotels and restaurants it follows that the estimate obtained from the survey is within 1-2% of the true figure.”
From this survey, based on 1200 respondents it was also estimated that there were 76,000 ±4,000 radio sets in use in Malta and Gozo; while the Malta Trade Statistics published by the Central Office of Statistics lists the following table for Imports and Re-exports of radio for the period 1964 – 1973:
With an extensive operation schedule on 1st April 1974, Radju Malta became fully operational and its success in listenership excelled through its organisation of the first ever local broadcast of Cantasud 1974, an annual festival that used to tour Southern Italy. This was brought over to Malta on 2nd July 1974 with the principal participation of Al Bano, Romina Power and Lara St. Paul. Cantasud Malta was awarded the Cantasud Gold Medal obtaining 54 votes out of 71 for the best organisation out of the 21 localities that Cantasud visited that year.
Programme standards by the Rediffusion Group of Companies, however, continued to deteriorate. The standard of imported programmes by the Malta Television Services in 1974 was deemed lower than in previous years. The original agreement provided for a minimum broadcasting time of 3 hours per day and a total of 28 hours per week. By 1971, the daily broadcast hours had only increased by one hour and although it was considered an improvement, the Authority felt that this increase was the minimum justifiable considering the £224,144 direct financial subsidy paid to its contractors up till 1971. For two consecutive summers of 1972 and 1973 MTV made requests to the Authority for the reduction of television hours during the summer months despite the increased payments by the Authority on television programming and the provision of equipment. In May 1974 the Authority was informed by its contactors that televisions hours would be reduced irrespective of the Authority’s stand. In July 1974 Malta Television Services reduced the broadcasting hours by 25 minutes daily.
Following the general elections held on 12th to 14th June 1971, Government made clear from the start its policy on broadcasting. At the first public pronouncement at the Speech from the Throne, it was made clear that there was to be a point in time when broadcasting was to be transferred to the public sector. The first steps taken by Government was that of the appointment of a Chief Executive to the Broadcasting Authority – a post which had been left vacant for about three years as Government retained such power of appointment up till 1999, and dictated the recruitment and conditions of employment of the Authority’s staff.
The Broadcasting Authority supported from the start Government’s plan to shift broadcasting media to the public sector and, on separate occasions, the Authority offered its services for the start of negotiations.
Negotiations started between Government and the Rediffusion Group towards the end of 1973. However, by the end of 1974, negotiations broke down as no agreement had been reached between the General Workers Union and the management as to the terminal benefits that would be paid to the staff were the company to terminate its activities on Malta. This was the second industrial disagreement registered between the G.W.U. and the Rediffusion Group, the first being registered on 26th July 1968 with a one-day strike.
On 14th February 1975 a sit-in strike was ordered by the G.W.U. at the premises of the Rediffusion Group of Companies and for a few days wired sound and television broadcasting services remained off the air. On 19th February radio and television broadcasts were restarted by the workers themselves who were still on the sit-in strike. On 24th February 1975 a Bill legalizing recent past and future activities of the workers of Rediffusion and MTV was introduced by Government and an Emergency Council was made up of workers from the two companies.
By April 1975 it was decided that the Emergency Council would also take control of other important communication services. These would include the former Rediffusion, Malta Television and Radio Malta under the new name of Xandir Malta run under a new public corporation Telemalta which would also take control of the Telephone Department and the Cable and Wireless Department both of which had operated independently. Telemalta Corporation was to be run by a Chairman and Board Members appointed under the Minister for Development, with each section run by its own management. In the meantime, all the Authority’s staff members and all broadcasting equipment previously purchased or acquired were transferred to the Emergency Council.
By 31st July 1975 Xandir Malta officially became the broadcasting division of the Telemalta Corporation. All previous responsibilities for programme production were shed by the Authority and all manpower and technical assets were transferred to Xandir Malta including the Authority’s wireless Radju Malta and its three stations broadcasting on the medium wave and on VHF-FM. The Schools Broadcasting Unit was also seconded by the Authority to the new centralized control of Telemalta Corporation.
Under the new broadcasting regime, the Authority reverted to its primary role of acting as ‘watch-dog’ over the broadcasting media, with Telemalta Corporation as its new broadcasting contractor. Its primary function emerged from the provisions of the Constitution (to ensure impartiality in matters of political or industrial controversy, or relating to current public policy, and that facilities and time are fairly apportioned between persons belonging to different political parties); and with the provisions of the Broadcasting Ordinance and the Broadcasting Agreements (which obliged the Authority and its Contractor to maintain balance and impartiality in programming, and to exclude from programmes any matter designed to serve the interests of any political party).
At the time it was considered that under these arrangements the Authority became more removed from the actual production process and in the consideration of complaints, it was not acting as judge, jury and defending counsel as was previously contended. Complaints received by the Authority were referred to its contractor for its comments, prior to further investigation and decision by the Authority. “The Authority’s monitoring service was extended to various areas of programming and reports were sent regularly for the Contractor’s attention. Where major points of substance were raised these were dealt with at Board level and suitable follow-up action taken” (B.A, 1975-76). Actually this meant that a complaint received by the Authority was forwarded to its Contractor for comments; this in turn was forwarded to the complainant for clarification and then if necessary brought to Board level.
Another first was achieved in February 1976 when, for the first time Outside Television Broadcasting became operative through the acquisition of an outside broadcasting unit which was modified to take a third camera and two portable micro-wave links by Xandir Malta engineers. This was used for the first time for the live coverage of the proceedings of “Budget Day” together with recorded historical commentaries on the House of Representatives and the interiors of the President’s Palace. By the end of the year, this was used for two sports events (Horse Racing from Marsa and the Motorcycle Scramble at Mtarfa); for the Malta Song Festival; the Good Friday Procession from Mosta; and for the 1976 General Election where a temporary two-camera studio was set up at the MCAST while a third camera was placed directly in the counting area. Continual ‘live’ coverage extending throughout the night and ending late the following morning, with liaison between the main studio control at TVM, the MCAST studio, and the News Division ensured continuity.
Ooutside broadcasting coverage for that period April 1976 to March 1977 also included:
• the Carnival défilé and dancing from Misraħ il-Ħelsien;
• the Republic Day festivities outside City Gate;
• the swearing-in of the new President of the Republic at the Palace, Valletta;
• the Midnight Christmas Mass (which had to be ahandoned due to a power failure);
• the consecration ceremony of the new Archbishop at the Mdina Cathedral;
• the state visit of the President of the Libyan Arab Republic, Colonel Gaddafi;
• opera from the “Aurora Theatre” in Gozo;
• the appointment of Labour Party deputy leaders from Freedom Hall, Marsa;
• the Prime Minister’s address to the Nation, also from Marsa’;
• the Manoel Theatre Orchestra Christmas Concert from Valletta;
• the “Bir Miftuħ” orchestral concert from the Assembly Hall at the Univeristy, Tal-Qroqq; and
• the opening ceremony of the second TV Channel at TVM premises [Tivumalta Ltd.].
Another first was achieved on 13th October 1977 – the direct radio transmission of a parliamentary session in which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition took part. And on 6th November 1978 Parliament again exercised its prerogative – to allow the television cameras within the precincts of the House of Parliament for a direct transmission of a debate on Malta’s foreign policy. This was followed on two other occasions – the 27th and 28th January 1979 – when Parliament was recorded and a deferred transmission took place on radio and Cable radio only in connection with the Budget involving the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
In January 1978 the English Service on Cable Radio Two was withdrawn and was replaced by programmes broadcast by the wireless station, Radio Malta One. By January 1975 the total daily listenership of both Radio and Cable Radio registered 282,000 listeners, representing more than two-thirds of the total population (aged 9 years and over) with Radio Malta One registering 155,000 while Cable Radio One registered 123,000 listeners. In 1979, Radio Malta Two, (the all music service) was taken off the air, while on 14th December 1979, Radio Malta International was moved to the VHF/FM band. This international service was discontinued as it did not have sufficient adequate power to carry transmission to the Italian mainland and was replaced by twelve continuous hours of daily broadcasts from 08:00am to 20:00 in English for the ever increasing tourist population in hotels, apartments and other holiday complexes.
In addition, for the first time, Television Malta hosted Mons. G. Mercieca, Archbishop of Malta and Mons. N. Cauchi, Bishop of Gozo to deliver the religious and pastoral television talks for the Holy Week of 1979.
Although the contractual relationship that existed between the Broadcasting Authority and the Rediffusion were also operative with the Telemalta Corporation (when the latter became responsible through its broadcasting division, Xandir Malta) the same cannot be said for those stations which operated under direct licence from the Government. At the start of 1979 these included the Central Mediterranean Relay Station; the British Forces Broadcasting Service; the Deutsche Welle Relay Station; TiveMalta Ltd.; the Voice of Friendship and Solidarity (later Voice of the Mediterranean operating under joint management provided by the Maltese and Libyan Governments); and Radio Mediterranean (a joint venture between the Maltese and Algerian Governments) – all these were not contracted by the Authority.
Only the Constitutional provisions on broadcasting and one section of the Ordinance [Section 7(2)(a) (c) and (g)] applied to these broadcasting services. The section referred to:
• religious sentiment, good taste or decency in programmes;
• the prevention of anything which might incite to crime or disorder or be offensive to public feeling or give offence to a living person; and
• the preservation of accuracy and impartiality in news and the maintenance of impartiality in matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy.
Although the Authority on its part and as far as possible monitored the programmes and investigated any complaints which arose within the specific limits allowed by law, administrative action could only be taken by Government.
The perennial divergences afflicting the Authority and media service providers promulgated themselves not only between these two parties but also within the media service providers themselves. The highly polarized political situation, with only one public service provider under Ministerial control, was not a sustainable position especially when social partners were also involved. A case in point was the unprecedented situation faced by the Authority in November 1979 following directives issued by the General Workers Union ordering a boycott by the media of all official activities of certain Members of Parliament – a directive, official and/or sometimes unofficial, that was resorted to a number of times over the years.
Such a directive had immediate repercussions as the Authority and/or its contracted service providers were restrained from the provision of complete and objective programmes as daily news coverage; current affairs programming (Mill-Gurnali tal-Lum – a daily review of editorial opinion); and parliamentary reports (Mill-Parlament – a report on parliamentary affairs broadcast whenever parliament was in session); as well as the broadcast of annual political programmes organized by the Broadcasting Authority. This often led to temporary suspension of programmes sometimes for the duration of the dispute, cancellation of programme series, and legal action awaiting court judgments.
The year 1981 started with the appointment of Mr. Francis S Carbone as Chief Executive of the Authority on 21st January, a post which had been left vacant for some years, while Mr. Antoine Ellul, the Authority’s Secretary, was detailed for other duties with the public service.
Undoubtedly, two major events attracted great public interest: the introduction of colour television service that was inaugurated on 8th July 1981; and the start of radio broadcasts by the Nationalist Party from overseas. In mid-November 1981 both the General Workers’ Union and the Malta Labour Party separately complained to the Authority over what was termed as imbalance created by such overseas broadcasts. In its Annual Report the Authority held that it was not within its competence to put a stop to such broadcasts; however, no remedial measure could be taken at the time for lack of quorum.
The year 1982 was characterised by a number of Court cases, all concerning the actual composition of the Board. During the previous year, on 16th December 1981 two members of the Board tendered their resignation to the President of the Republic. And although the Authority was still constituted, practically no decisions could be taken by the Authority as there was no quorum. This was confirmed in the First Hall of the Civil Court judgment of May 1982 that asserted that Article 123(2) provided that once a Commission (in this case, the Authority) is set up by the Constitution it may still function, notwithstanding there are vacancies in its membership.
Section 3(5) of the Broadcasting Ordinance states that the number of Members other than the Chairman, shall be not less than four and not more than six, while the First Schedule to the same Ordinance specified that the quorum of the Authority shall consist of three Members in addition to the Chairman. Since 1964, the number of Members appointed to serve on the Authority has been pegged down to the minimum allowed by law.
The incumbent Authority’s term of office ended on 20th July of 1982; however the term of office of its three remaining members was extended till the end of the year. At the following Court of Appeal’s judgment while confirming the judgment of the First Hall of the Civil Court (in that the Authority was still constituted even with reduced members), the Court of Appeal deemed that post 20th July 1982 the Authority was no longer regularly constituted as required by the Constitution – the mere extension of office did not equate the reconstitution of the Authority. Consequently, the Authority could no longer remain a proper defendant in its own case. In such circumstances, the constitutional provision which states that the Authority’s representation is vested in the Chairman could not be applied as the Authority itself was not constituted.
In a move designed to solve this ongoing controversy in broadcasting arising mainly through the various boycotts declared, the Foreign Interference Bill, Act No. XI of 1982 came into force on its publication on 1st September 1982 while, on the other hand, transmission from Sicily was suspended on 3rd August 1982. Although the local receiving of broadcasts from abroad was not deemed to be an offence, the transmissions by Maltese citizens from abroad to Malta became liable to prosecution. At the time the transmission to neighbouring countries from the latter’s nationals abroad was, and still is, a common practice not only in the E.E.C. (now the European Union) but even worldwide – a case in point being Radio Luxembourg.
From the commencement of 1983 straight through the following three years, the Broadcasting Authority was not constituted. Broadcasting regulation during this period proved even more precarious when in March 1983 the Chief Executive of the Broadcasting Authority was also appointed Chairman of TeleMalta Corporation, being itself the broadcasting contractor to the Broadcasting Authority. In October 1983, Cable Radio 2 and Radio Malta were peremptorily amalgamated.
For the next three years every effort was made for a negotiated settlement of the existing crisis in broadcasting. The Nationalist Party lifted its 23-month boycott of products advertised on the broadcasting media on the very first day of 1984. This move was reciprocated by the General Workers’ Union lifting its directives ordering the workers of Xandir Malta to boycott Nationalist Party’s activities and, towards the end of the year, removing their boycott against the Nationalist MP, Dr Josie Muscat, as a further sign of goodwill.
This, however, did not totally remove the stalemates prevalent at the time. On 19th February 1985 the Constitutional Court delivered judgment on the case instituted in November 1979 by the Nationalist Party against various omission by Xandir Malta whereby the Court requested the latter to broadcast within two working days that all the complaints listed were adjudged as founded and justified by the Court. All this notwithstanding, the Chief Executive of Xandir Malta presented himself on 19th April 1985 in his first monthly programme “Il-Kap tax-Xandir Iwieġeb” – a programme which invited adverse criticism from various quarters especially from the House of Representatives when on 10th July it was commented that “even if informative, the Head of Xandir Malta had no right to touch upon controversial matters”.
The turning point came at the parliamentary sitting of 10th July 1985 when a Select Committee was set up with the unanimous approval of the House of Representatives with members nominated by both sides of the House to examine the provisions of certain laws with the aim of strengthening the democratic process in Malta, and with the appointment of the Broadcasting Authority on 18th July 1986 (again for a period of one year). The post held by Mr F. X. Carbone as Chairman of the EneMalta Corporation (formerly TeleMalta Corporation) was relinquished on 1st October while he retained the post of Chief Executive of the Broadcasting Authority. After the May General Elections, Mr Antoine Ellul was appointed to the post of Chief Executive of the Broadcasting Authority in July 1987, previously having served the Authority in various capacities during the period 1961 to 1981.
Of note is the Memorandum Il-Knisja u x-Xandir F’Malta presented to the Broadcasting Authority on 23rd October 1986 by the Press Office of the Archbishop’s Curia, limiting itself only to the presentation of the Church in news items, and the reconstitution of the Religious Broadcasting Advisory Committee in consultation with the Archbishop of Malta.
In the early eighties, court cases concerning the appointment, composition of the Authority, its quorum and proceedings were the order of the day. Moreover, not being constituted for three and a half years between 1983 and July 1985, brought about a disruption of the Authority’s regulatory and other functions. Impartiality and balance were no longer rigorously observed, and the broadcasting regulator specifically entrusted with that task could not enforce the Constitution’s broadcasting provisions.
The end of this decennial also brought about some welcome changes in broadcasting systems. Cable Radio, which had been operating in Malta for 53 years, broadcast its last programme before closing down on 31st January 1989 while, during the same month, a public call for proposals was issued to develop a Cable Television Service for the Maltese Islands.
In September 1990 a White Paper was issued setting out Government’s proposals for establishing pluralism in broadcasting through the development of new radio services at national and community levels, the introduction of a cable television service, and providing a framework for rapidly developing technologies.
1991 - 1999
The new Broadcasting Bill was published on 8 March 1991 and after 22 parliamentary sessions was enacted and brought into effect on 1st June 1991. However, in April 1991 Government offered and subsequently issued radio licences to the Nationalist Party, the Malta Labour Party, and the Catholic Church in terms of the Wireless Telegraphy Ordinance; these were valid for a period expiring on 31st December 1992. On 3rd June 1991, the Government signed an agreement with Melita Cable Television Ltd. granting the company a 15-year franchise to install and operate a cable television service comprising of a number of channels received via terrestrial and satellite stations, while the Broadcasting Authority issued a call for applications for eight-year licences to operate nationwide radio stations on that same day. Construction of the cable system began in the Autumn of 1991 while work for the connectivity for Gozo started in 1995. By 1st January 1996 the total number of households with a cable facility stood at 145,371, of which 51,500 were actually connected to the cable service – a penetration rate of 35%.
| |Licensing of the first Commercial Radio Stations
Island Sound, Radio One Live, Bay Radio
7th November 1991
The Labour Party radio station Super One Radio was the first on air with regular 24/7 transmissions in mid-August 1991; the station owned by the Nationalist Party, Radio 101, was inaugurated in September 1991; while the Church station, RTK, was inaugurated on 14th March 1992.
By 7th November 1991 the Authority had awarded three licences, out of five applications received, to Island Sound (which commenced transmission on 6th March 1992), Radio One Live, and Bay Radio (commencing transmission on 10th March 1992). Smash Radio was the last station licensed by the Authority for its first issue of frequencies.
At the end of the year the Authority also launched four-year community radio services that were to broadcast with a 2.5 Km radius from location. The first two such community radio stations were Radju Rona which started transmitting on 15th April 1993 from Naxxar; and Radju għall-Providenza which operated between 20th and 25th December 1993 from Siggiewi with the aim of broadcasting music pledges to raise funds for the residents of the Dar tal-Providenza. Radio Rona which was embarked upon with much enthusiasm closed down after two months; however the efforts of Radju għall-Providenza and Radju għar-Restawr (licensed the following year for the restoration of part of the façade of the Mosta Church) were both quite satisfied with the results of their efforts.
In June 1992 the Authority advertised the availability of the remaining two unallocated frequencies for nationwide radio services in the VHF/FM band. Three applications were received, setting up the first actual exercise in competitive licensing owing to the limited number of radio frequencies available. Radio Calypso was licensed first as it originated from Gozo and promised to present the Gozitan dimension at a national level. There was heavy contention for the last remaining licence.
An interesting development took place during 1993, culminating in the issue of a radio licence by the Authority to UNIMAS Ltd. Following exhaustive negotiations between the Authority and the two applicants (the University of Malta and the Social Action Movement), agreement was reached on the setting up of a holding company (UNIMAS Ltd.) which would be allocated a licence to operate a joint programme service on the FM frequency. Transmissions from the University Radio started in August 1994 while in October 1994 Radju MAS commenced regular transmissions.
In February 1997 two additional VHF-FM frequencies were assigned by Government for use by PBS Ltd and by Alternattiva Demokratika. FM Bronja, the third radio service run by the public service broadcaster, was licensed by the Authority by the end of the year. Alternattive Demokratika, on the other hand, had to give up its community radio licence and a broadcast licence was issued on 6th May 1998 for Capital Radio.
The new broadcasting legislation also contemplated a new television-broadcasting scenario for the public service provider. A new company was set up on 27th September 1991 and all operations of the former Xandir Malta were transferred to the new service TVM operated by the state owned company Public Broadcasting Services Ltd. This included also the already on-air radio stations Radio Malta 1 on 999 MW and Radio Malta 2 on 93.7 FM.
In June 1993, Parliament amended section 10(5) of the Broadcasting Act. The original version limited one broadcasting service to one broadcasting licensee requiring, in effect, that a radio licensee could not obtain a television licence without first relinquishing control over the company which owned the radio service. The amendment allowed an organisation, person, or company to be editorially responsible for not more than one radio service and not more than one television service. On 22nd February 1993 Government assigned to the Authority the UHF channels 21 and 29 for which the Authority had already received an application from the Malta Labour Party to cover also television broadcasts.
The two assigned channels were subject to varying degrees of interference from the Italian stations Canale 5 and TVR Sicilia and representations had to be made by Government with the Italian authorities to clear the two television channels which had been internationally assigned to Malta by the Stockholm Convention. On 20th August 1993, the Malta Labour Party commenced unauthorized television test transmissions on UHF channel 43 while a licence was issued to Super One Television on 25th February 1994 to operate on channel 29, using the transmitter power of 100 watts at the Authority’s antenna at Għargħur and a system of repeaters to achieve nationwide coverage. Super One Television also started using the cable system during the last quarter of 1994.
A second television broadcasting licence was issued to Smash Communications Ltd. on 27th October 1994, authorising the company to operate Smash TV on the cable television system. It commenced broadcasts on 19th November 1994. During the last quarter of 1994 another channel Max Plus was introduced by the Cable Operator.
The White Paper published in September 1990 and the Broadcasting Act ushered in a new era establishing pluralism in broadcasting and the ending of monopolistic broadcasting. The Authority was tasked with the setting up of a new community TV-channel, Channel 12, which it would operate itself and an educational channel which was to be operated by the Education Department in consultation with the Authority. Xandir Malta was hived-off from the Telemalta Corporation and absorbed in a limited liability company – Public Broadcasting Services Ltd. The removal of broadcasting barriers, which had shielded the public service monopoly in broadcasting together with the advent of a cable television network and the fast expanding FM radio stations in 1992, required more than the premises held at Blata-l-Bajda, which had accommodated the Authority since 1971. They were clearly inadequate for these requirements which included television and training studio space, as well as room for offices and technical support, editing suites for its local productions, and computers to assist in the analysis of performance reports and broadcasting surveys.
Following the Authority’s decision to build offices and studios suitable for its requirements, a rather lengthy process ensued for the selection and purchase of an appropriate site as well as for the preparation and approval of purpose-built facilities. In March 1994 construction work on a new office building started at Mile End Road, Hamrun, and by September 1995 the Authority moved into its newly built office premises. By that time a television studio of 100 square meters, located mainly underground, was in its final stages of completion for the Authority’s community television station (Channel 12), which became fully operational on 29th September 1996 via the cable television service under the direct control of the Broadcasting Authority.
Soon after its inauguration, Channel 12 concentrated on placing its human and technical resources at the disposal of those organisations with a commitment towards social and cultural progress where Local Councils and philanthropic societies featured prominently in the station’s programme schedules. In its brief existence, in fact, the Outside Broadcasting Unit that was donated by Melita Cable Ltd. as part of its 15-year franchise licence obligations produced 18.6% (337 hours) of all Channel 12’s programmes.
In 1997, the reduction in the Authority’s budget in line with the Government’s policy of rationalizing public broadcasting resources meant that the Authority could no longer continue to operate the Community Channel. As the Authority wanted to ensure that the broadcasting resources it owned would remain in the public domain, discussions with PBS Ltd. started immediately following discussions in March with the Prime Minister on Government’s rationalization plans for the public broadcasting sector. When PBS Ltd. signified their disinterest in the package offered, the Authority concluded an agreement with Melita Cable Television Ltd. that fulfilled all the criteria sought by the Authority. However, Melita Cable later pulled out after the Prime Minister described the deal reached as not in the public interest. Subsequently PBS submitted an offer that was closely akin to the one they had previously rejected and negotiations between the Authority and the national broadcasting station were successfully concluded.
Channel 12, the community channel on cable television which began its activity under the direct control of the Broadcasting Authority on 29th September 1996, was hived off to the Public Broadcasting Services Ltd. on 16th January 1998.
In July 1997, Government assigned four UHF television channels to the Authority for use by licensed private nationwide broadcasters. After due consideration test transmissions were authorized on UHF Channel 50 that was allocated to the Nationalist Party – a broadcasting licence was issued on 20th March 1998 to Net TV. Channel 42 was allocated to Smash Communications Ltd. which was already operating a television service on cable.
In August 1999 Max Media Entertainment Ltd. made a formal application for a new TV service Max Plus. The station was to broadcast only on the cable network and was allocated the use of channel 18 on this service. Also that same month a formal application was made by a newly set up company, www.travel, for a broadcasting licence for overseas digital satellite television and digital interactive HTML contents broadcasting service. The application was referred to the Ministry for Transport and Communications and the Authority was later informed that the station had been granted permission to start test transmissions.
On 1st January 1999 the Authority appointed for the first time in its history its own Chief Executive Officer.
Through the initial stages of pluralism, the Broadcasting Authority concentrated mainly on establishing the various licences issued, and while steadfastly adhering to its legal and constitutional requirements made the pragmatic decision to tolerate shortcomings liable to be found at the outset of these new ventures. As the end of this teething stage, the Authority marked the end of 1994, and while emphasizing that pluralism was intended to offer the public a wide choice of programming at a consistently acceptable level, the Authority embarked on a number of initiatives to increase the quality level of broadcasts.
Following the liberalization of the broadcasting media market, the first such initiatives included:
• 18th February 1993: Seminar – Current Affairs Programme Guidelines with keynote speaker Dr Massimo Fichera, the Director-General of Euronews
• 11th June 1993: Seminar – The Effects of Pluralism in Broadcasting
• 18th February 1994: Seminar – Balance and Impartiality in Broadcasting
• 7-18th March 1994: Training course in broadcast journalism held with the cooperation of the Authority, The Strickland Foundation, and the Thomson foundation
• 5th May 1995: Seminar – The Role of the Broadcasting Authority in a Democratic Society
• 30th May 1996: Seminar – The Role of Advertising in Broadcasting Policy with keynote speaker Prof. Dr. Bernd-Peter Lange, Director-General of the European Institute for the Media. This was followed by two discussion half-day seminars in August 1996 for station managements and advertising agencies to review a draft advertising code purposely prepared by the Authority
• 27th August 1999: Seminar – Television Broadcasting in Malta
Over time, the Authority published several publications related to broadcasting. The first such publication was “The Young Listener” in collaboration with the Department of Education for the Schools Broadcasting Unit of the Broadcasting Authority. This was followed by the publication of the proceedings of several conferences organised by the Authority in 1993-1995. Conscious of the fact that until 1999 no qualitative survey had ever been carried out on a national basis in order to assess the effects of broadcasting on various sectors of Maltese society, the Authority initiated a 3-year plan. This plan involved the annual commissioning of a qualitative survey about the effects that a particular aspect or aspects of broadcasting might have on a specific sector of society. The following qualitative research was thus commissioned by the Authority:
• Young People and the Broadcasting Media; Joe Grixti, 1999, examined and evaluated the effects that violence, sex, advertising and product placement as well as programming strategies had on the attitudes or behaviour of young people under 14 years of age.
• Broadcasting Pluralism in Malta Ten Years Later – A Qualitiative Perspective; Marika Fsadni, 2003, examined the effect of broadcasting pluralism on programme content, broadcasting standards and the public broadcaster.
• Broadcasting and The Young Adult Consumer; Joe Grixti; 2004, examined local and global media influences on Maltese youth culture
• Programmi ta’ Kwalità Għat-Tfal; Aquilina, Axiak, DeBono, Muscat Azzopardi; 2007; research papers and guidelines for audio-visual content for children’s programmes through a joint committee between the Authority and the Commissioner for Children
• Maltese Broadcasting Legislation: Salient Documentation; Aquilina & Axiak, 2007; Broadcasting Studies Series Vol. 1;
• Maltese Broadcast Consumer Profile: An Analytical assessment 1999-2006; Mario Axiak, 2008; Broadcasting Studies Series Vol. 2; and
• Gender Issues in News Bulletins: A Comparative Analysis between Malta, Cyprus and Ireland; Joanna Spiteri, 2008; Broadcasting Studies Series Vol. 3.
Another initiative taken by the Authority to improve the level of quality of broadcasts started during 1994 when the Authority announced the launching of a radio and television programme competition that was meant to become an annual event and had the following basic objectives:
• To stimulate healthy competition between broadcasters working in the various television and radio stations.
• To demonstrate that talent is appreciated and rewarded.
• To achieve excellence in television and radio programming which, in turn, would enhance the status of programme producers.
This yearly competition ran from 1995 to 2003 and for nine consecutive years became the main focus of both local radio and television broadcasting stations. All competed for the Best Programme in one of a list of categories. The awards were highly contested by the producers themselves, but at times they were not awarded as the expected quality was not attained. Starting with six categories in 1995, this list accounted for eleven categories by 2003 for radio as well as for television programmes, an Award for Gender Awareness in the Broadcasting Media, and an Award for the Proper Use of the Maltese Language. A special award for outstanding service to the broadcasting industry was awarded to Charles Arrigo (1995) and to Charles Clews (1997).
While on the one hand the Authority wanted to stimulate healthy competition and at the same time wanted to help local programmes and producers through various initiatives, it wanted to ensure that it could operate as efficiently as possible in the public interest. Section 33 of the Broadcasting Act lays down that: “The Authority may appoint, or designate any organ, as advisory committees to give advice to the Authority and to any person providing broadcasting services in Malta, on educational and religious matters, on standards of conduct in the advertising of goods or services, and on such other matters as the Authority may determine”.
In 1999, the Authority appointed five advisory committees for direction with regard to various broadcasting matters dealing with:
• Broadcasting Technology – to advise the Authority with developments in broadcasting technology; recommending implementation schedules to the introduction of digital broadcasting and to advise the Authority on the regulatory aspects of such developments.
• Quality and Ethics in Broadcasting – to advise and raise the level of programme standards on public and commercial broadcasting media through programme guidelines aiming at good taste and decency.
• Advertising and other Economic Issues – to advise on the upgrading and revision of the Code of Advertising Standards and Practice (Third Schedule of the Broadcasting Act, Cap 350.) ensuring adequate consumer protection, and to draw up a code of advertising ethics for the broadcasting media.
• News and Current Affairs – to devise an overall plan for the improvement of present output of news and current affairs programming on public and commercial broadcasting services through the updating of such codes of standards and practice for the attainment of good journalistic practices.
• Gender Issues in the Broadcasting Media – to advise on the introduction and adaptation of guidelines concerning gender issues in programme content; the introduction of equality of opportunity in the granting or renewing of broadcasting licences; and in the preparation of contact lists of a gender-balanced database of experts for use by producers in the area of news and factual programming.
By the end of 1999 the Authority was in a position, amongst others:
• to properly ensure the preservation of due impartiality in respect of matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy;
• to fairly apportion broadcasting facilities and time between persons belonging to different political parties by organizing its own political broadcasts;
• to act as a sound and television broadcasting regulator;
• to draft broadcasting legislation for Government’s and parliament’s approval;
• to award radio and television licences for both nationwide as well as on community basis;
• to monitor broadcasting stations and regulate their performance in terms of their legal and licensing obligations;
• to ensure that a wide range of broadcasting services catering for a variety of tastes and interests were available;
• to ensure fair and effective competition of the provision of these services;
• to produce civil educational campaigns on broadcasting media;
• to organise annual broadcasting seminars and launch research grants commissioning qualitative and quantitative studies on broadcasting related subjects;
• to establish a diversity database for use by broadcasters; and
• to formulate broadcasting standards on various aspects of broadcasting.
With regard to international relations, the Broadcasting Authority was always very active within broadcasting regulatory networks and other international fora. It hosted several international conferences locally. Such networks included World Summit for Regulators, International Telecommunications Union; UNESCO; the European Broadcasting Union (EBU); the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA); the Council of Europe (COE); the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA); the European Television and Film Forum, and the Mediterranean Network of Regulatory Authorities (MNRA).
In fact, the Authority is a founding member of the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA) that was set up in 1995 during a meeting held in Malta with the following primary functions:
• to provide a forum for informal discussion and exchange of views between regulatory authorities in the broadcasting media;
• to constitute a forum for exchange of information about common issues of national and European media regulation; and
• to encourage discussions and seek to find practical solutions to legal problems regarding the interpretation and application of media regulations.
Various familiarisation visits by the Authority and its Members, as well as some of its staff, were also made during the course of its operations. Entities visited include the BBC Worldwide Television, the French Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA), and the European Institute for the Media amongst a host of others.
2000 - 2011
The first ten years of the new millennium proved to be as challenging for the Broadcasting Authority as the previous decennials. A major upgrading of the Monitoring Department commenced during 1999 and the first and second phases of the Authority’s IT programme were in place by the end of 2000. This included the launching of its web-page in May 1999 and the computerization of the Authority (Phase 1). An appropriate database (Phase 2) was introduced to render the Monitoring Department more efficient, considering that its role is closely linked to the Authority’s key constitutional function. Phase 3, which envisaged a centralized archiving digitized capturing system of all broadcast radio and television systems, commenced in 2006 through the issue of a call for expressions of interest with draft specifications and the drawing up of an eventual tender document.
Up until the 1990’s through the Ordinance of 1961, the Broadcasting authority had to resort to judicial decrees to maintain balance and impartiality and, very often, the recourse sought by the Authority could be easily overturned through Government’s diktat. Over time, the Authority had introduced a system under which stations facing a complaint were summoned to a hearing at which the parties involved put their side of the case to the Authority before the latter decided the outcome. Through the Broadcasting Act of 1991, the legislator had built on this practice. While every decision reached by the Authority remains subject to judicial review, the Authority was in a position to publish regulations under which public hearings were to be held. On 1st September 2000 these regulations were published through Legal Notice 161 (Code for the Investigation and Determination of Complaints) and L. N. 162 of 2000 (Special Administrative Procedure Regulations). The Broadcasting Act was also amended to ensure that any fine imposed has first to be paid before a judicial review of the Authority’s decision could be sought.
The Advisory Committees set up by the Authority in 1999 were soon to prove their worth. By 2001, the Advisory Committee on Advertising and other Economic Issues in the Broadcasting Media was responsible for the issue of three sets of Guidelines: the advertising of alcoholic drinks; the advertising of Medicines, Treatments, Health Claims, Nutrition and Dietary Supplements; and the advertising of Financial Services and Products. The Advisory Committee on Quality and Ethics in Broadcasting recommended guidelines on the ethical coverage of tragedies and the correct use of Maltese in broadcasting; and concluded a qualitative study on Good Quality Television – a document for public discussion that was published and received a wide and highly positive response. The Advisory Committee on News and Current Affairs prepared a draft report on the updating of the Codes covering News and Current Affairs that came into effect during 2002. The Advisory Committee on Gender issues organised, on behalf of the Authority, a two-week training course at Radio Telefis Éireann, Dublin, on Gender Awareness in the Broadcasting Media for fourteen employees of various local stations after the Authority successfully applied for a placement under the Leonardo da Vince Programme of the European Union. For the first time, a prize for Gender Awareness in the Broadcasting Media was awarded.
At the start of this decennial, on 1st August 2000 the Malta Communications Authority was set up through Act XVIII of 2000 to regulate electronic communications, certain aspects of data protection in electronic communication, postal services, electronic commerce and similar areas in the field of communications. With immediate effect, close links between the Broadcasting Authority and the MCA were established, and on 30th July 2004 the Department of Wireless Telegraphy – the Broadcasting Authority’s technical advisor – was integrated into this new Authority. The assignment of frequencies became the prerogative of the MCA.
Financial constraints during 2004 required the Authority to restructure or discontinue a number of its activities. The Authority’s annual Programme Awards for radio and television was not held, the Authority did not appoint any Advisory Committees … and no new initiatives in qualitative research were undertaken (B.A., 2004). Although the Authority was no longer in a financial position to appoint its own Advisory Committees, contacts with other government agencies were soon established.
In this respect, the Broadcasting Authority continued to co-operate with the Akkademja tal-Malti in order to raise the level of both spoken and written Maltese on the broadcasting Media through the publication of a list of information technology terminology that was to be used by the broadcasting media. With the newly appointed Commission for Children, the Authority set up a sub-committee aimed at updating the Broadcasting Code for the Protection of Minors by focusing primarily on providing guidelines for good quality programmes for children. And with the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality between Men and Women, a sub-committee was set up to render easier and to co-ordinate better on items of mutual interest to both organisations. Following submissions received from the Commissioner for Children, Aġenzija Appoġġ, the Maltese Psychological Association and the Maltese Association of Social Workers, the Authority revised its Guidelines on the Portrayal of Vulnerable Persons in the Broadcasting Media. These had originally come into being after the National Commission Persons With Disability (KNPD) had complained to the Broadcasting Authority on the negative portrayal of disabled people in a number of fund-raising programmes. Through its Advisory Committee on Quality and Ethics, and in consultation with the KNPD, the Authority drew up the said Code in 2004.
Again the Authority was not constituted during April to June and October to December of 2005. The Chairman and all the Board Members were not in office for the duration of said periods. The same Authority was reconstituted on 24th June for three months with the same members, their appointment being back-dated to 1st April. Similarly, on 22nd December 2005 the Authority was reconstituted back-dated from 1st October 2005.
In 2006 the Authority set up an advisory committee on medicinal products and medicinal treatment advertising with the aim of drawing up guidelines to assist radio and television broadcasters in grasping better the legal provisions regulating this sector as well as to develop a code of ethics as to what should be considered acceptable ethical behaviour in broadcast media. The Committee consisted of a representative of the Director General (Health), the Medical Council, the Pharmacy Council, the Council for the Professions Complementary to Medicine, the Medicines Authority, and the Consumer Affairs Council.
In view of the envisaged development in digital technology, the migration from analogue to digital radio and high definition broadcasting, new media platforms, and satellite broadcasting licensing, to name just a few, during 2006 the Authority compiled its first Business Plan to cover the period 2007-2009 and approved a Vision Statement and a Mission Statement. During this year, the Authority and the MCA set up a Task Force on Community Radio Stations to develop a policy for the assignment of spectrum and coverage areas as well as the identification of the necessary amendment to the Broadcasting Act, the Electronic Communications (Regulation) Act, and the Electronic Communications Networks and Services Regulations. During the same year, the Authority and the MCA formulated their advice to Government on the evolution of digital terrestrial television in view of the technical developments which had taken place and in so far as “must carry and general interest objective” are concerned.
On 11th July 2008 the first satellite broadcasting licence was issued by the Authority to BuzzTV Ltd. At the time only the Minister responsible for communications was empowered to issue such a licence unless he delegated such a function to the Broadcasting Authority. Legal Notice 175 of 2008 was issued by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications empowering the Broadcasting Authority to issue on behalf of Government a licence to this company to broadcast a television service, the uplink being in Slovenia. Essentially a generalist station, Buzz TV went off the air in July 2009, the owners citing technical difficulties and a change in uplink together with a re-branding exercise for the lack of broadcasts. The licence for this station was revoked by the Authority on 7th December 2009.
In July 2009 the Broadcasting Act was amended in order to provide a more detailed licensing regime for the regulation of satellite radio and television services. And in 2010, for the first time, the Authority issued its first licence for satellite transmissions to a Belgian based company Icon Europe for a number of thematic satellite television stations (sixteen channels including one Teleshopping Channel) targeting the Turkish speaking community in Central Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.
Test transmission on the first digital radio platform started on 1st July 2008 and on 1st October the same year the Authority issued a broadcasting licence for four years to DigiB Networks Ltd which had already been licensed by the M.C.A. with regard to spectrum frequency allocation. A number of foreign radio channels started being rebroadcast on this platform, together with the simulcasting of nearly all the locally originating FM radio stations. And by the end of the year, the first community radio station, Christian Light Radio, was also licensed by the Authority to simulcast on this DAB+ platform.
On the 1st of May 2004 Malta took its place as a Member State of the European Union. At the time Malta was fully compliant with the European Union Television Without Frontiers Directive. The basis of this Directive was the protection of the home market of the broadcasting industry of the original Member States. However, with the increase of ten new Member States in 2004, the European Union soon realized that its Directive on Television Without Frontiers had to be amended. Rather than promoting quality in programming through regulation, the new Directive – the Audiovisual Media Services Directive - promoted quality in programming through the liberalization of broadcasting regulations (such as allowing product placement in programmes), thus making European programmes more competitive on the international market.
The European Union Audiovisual Media Services Directive (Directive 2007/65/EC) was formally adopted on 11th December 2007 and was to be transposed by Member States by the 15th December 2009. The process for the implementation of the AVMS directive started off on 20th November 2007 with a conference for stakeholders organized by the Malta Forum in Europe in collaboration with TAIEX and the Media Desk within the Ministry for Tourism and Culture entitled The New Media Landscape: Audiovisual Media Services Without Frontiers. On 3rd September 2008 the Minister responsible for broadcasting appointed a Working Group on the Audio Visual Media Services Directive and a consultation document on the transposition of the Directive was published. This Working Group concluded its task on 26th January 2009 and submitted its report to the Minister concerned. On 4th June 2010, the AVMS Directive was implemented in the Broadcasting Act, Cap. 350 of the Laws of Malta through Act IV of 2010 and Legal Notices 320-326.
On February 2009 a Policy and Strategy Document for Digital Broadcasting that meets General Interest Objectives was launched by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications in collaboration with the Broadcasting Authority and the Malta Communications Authority highlighting the changes expected for digital switchover from analogue terrestrial to digital broadcasting. A new digital platform for free-to-air stations was set up and a multiplex licence was issued to the state broadcaster, i.e. PBS Ltd. as the operator of this digital platform which was to carry up to six stations, including TVM and Education 22 which are considered to be de facto general interest objective stations. On 21st June 2011, Legal Notice 240 of 2011 was published in the Government Gazzette, setting out the criteria to be adopted in the selection of television services that fulfill general interest objective criteria to broadcast on the digital free-to-air platform. The analogue signal was switched off on 31st October 2011.
Mario Axiak B.A. (Hons.), MBA (Maastricht), M.I.M. Head Research & Communications