ONE and NET may have received a combined €360,000 in direct COVID-19 state aid but smaller TV stations weren’t quite so fortunate.
Smash, F Living and Xejk, three small but independently owned TV stations, confirmed with Lovin Malta that they haven’t benefitted from this aid package and weren’t even informed of it.
While the propaganda arms of the political parties pocketed several thousands, the small size of the three small TV stations worked against them and rendered them ineligible for this aid package.
Malta Enterprise’s aid guidelines show that TV media providers are entitled to up to €45,000 in direct aid a month, excluding government advertising, with the current version of the scheme running between March and June.
However, this comes with a caveat in that the media house must employ at least four full-time journalists.
What this means in real terms is that only three TV stations are eligible for this state aid – TVM, which is owned by the state itself, ONE, which is owned by the Labour Party, and NET, which is owned by the Nationalist Party.
It is a blow to independent broadcasters in Malta, who already struggle to compete against political giants, and who are now also being discriminated against in terms of state aid even though they had to pass through the same pandemic.
“Although we do not have a newsroom, we do our utmost to keep our televiewers up-dated with all the current affairs and breaking news on the dot,” F Living said.
“The fact that we are also a free-to-air channel like Net and One TV, we find it very awkward that we have been left out of this Government scheme.”
Political party stations are also receiving way more aid than other independent media houses.
While NET and ONE are receiving €45,000 a month, newspapers are receiving €10,000. This means ONE Productions and Media.Link are each receiving more per month than all four Maltese independent newspaper houses (Allied Productions, MediaToday, Standard Publications and Union Print) combined.
Meanwhile, online news portals like Lovin Malta are entitled to €5,000 a month while radio media providers are entitled to €3,500. Media houses which provide a news service on more than one portal or channel are entitled to €10,000, the same as newspapers.
This aid comes amidst a national discussion on whether party’s media, oftentimes seen as political propaganda, should continue to be allowed in Malta.
Lovin Malta’s show Kaxxaturi has raised over €7,500 to mount a court case against Malta’s party-owned TV stations, arguing that political coverage by ONE and NET goes against the Constitution, the right to freedom of information, and the basic rules of fair competition.