Well isn’t this an overwhelming title. It feels like an English A Level essay question, a statement that I would have clammed up to too. So instead of trying to make a concrete argument to start off with, as we would have done to get that coveted A grade, let’s start off with some facts.
A dictionary definition of the media is ‘the main means of mass communication regarded collectively” . This encompasses what is known as traditional media; meaning print, radio and television as well as newer but increasingly influential means such as the internet and social media.
The dictionary defines the term democracy as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typical through elected representatives”. I felt the need to include this definition, as it seems like most of the Maltese population can’t understand the concept, or forgot what it means.
Okay, now that we’re all clear about the subject of my upcoming argument, what happens when we combine the two concepts together? This is where a cloud of grey is seen forming over the Maltese Islands as we have no clue what this concept entails.
In an ideal democratic society, the role of the media is to work in harmony with the public and the law maker alike. It is of utmost importance that the media educate the masses by giving the facts, something that in recent elections has been truly lacking, both on the island and overseas. This will help the citizen know what their leaders are offering them, if the electoral promises have been kept and form an opinion on the current affairs going on around the world. It is the responsibility of the media to make sure that all they report is factual. Without this sense of trust in the press, the checkpoint aspect between the entities and the public will be lost and the consequences are never pretty.
In a nutshell, an effective media in a democratic society needs to be free, objective and skilled.
Therefore, can Malta truly call itself a democratic state with the current situation of the media? We are one of the few countries in the world where political propaganda is pushed down our throats on a daily basis by media entities owned by the biggest political parties on the island – comprising of TV stations, radio, newspapers and social media alike. If these platforms are the main source of news of the Maltese public, how can they guarantee that the information they are digesting daily is actually factual, not what the government or opposition actually wants us to know.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It is a known fact that PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service) is heavily influenced by the government of the day. This has been pointed out many times over the years, with both major political parties mentioning it from time to time.
In 2009 for instance, The Malta Independent reported how then Opposition spokesperson and current Education Minister Evarist Bartolo had claimed that “the PBS has allowed the government to intervene in its services, reducing the nation’s freedom of expression in the process”, and even compared PBS to the Zimbabwean state media. Bartolo repeated similar suggestions of government influence in the state broadcaster in Parliament in 2011 as well.
Similarly, when the PN was voted out of government and into the Opposition, they too compained about PBS. In 2014 in fact, The Times of Malta reported that the Nationalist Party filed a complaint against PBS, with director of information David Herrera telling the Times that the PBS newsroom had used a news bulletin to push the government’s agenda forward. Opposition leader Simon Busuttil complained of similar political imbalance in 2015.
Ultimately, for this to change there must be a purge of all politically owned or affiliated media entities. But the ideal, as we have brutally come to learn, is not always feasable. In a tiny country like our own, it is almost certain that even fully independent media organisations have politicial ties, whether this is aired in public or kept under wraps.
So what can we believe? Will this situation ever be rectified? Let’s not be pessimistic, but let’s be realistic here. The Maltese have never liked change, and this is something that does not seem to be changing anytime soon. We’re too comfortable believing what we see and hear to challenge any of it. So how can we state we’re living in a democratic state if we aren’t thought how to objectively reason between what is true and untrue?