Written by Antonia Paal

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  • Area: 316 square kilometres
  • Population: 434,403 (2016)
  • Capital: Valletta
  • State form: Unitary parliamentary republic
  • Official languages: Maltese, English
  • Religion: Roman Catholicism

  • Flag of Malta

    Malta is a small country with a thriving media landscape. These media landscape, however, consists of media mostly financed by institutions like the church or political parties, as a commercial media market is not viable due to the country size. As a former British colony, press freedom and public service broadcasting are pronounced. Nonetheless, due to its polarization, political parallelism and political ownership in press and broadcasting, Malta would fit the Polarized Pluralist Model by Hallin and Manchini (2004) as institutions still have an important role in the society. Furthermore, journalists tend to censor themselves as they often support a particular political party. In terms of the legal environment, freedom of the press is formalized by law in the Maltese Constitution as well the rights of journalists are legally reserved. However, defamation and libel law are often applied to journalists or media companies. With regard to ethical standards, Maltese journalists are disunited, as most media have their own Code of Ethics, although being fair and impartial are generally accepted standards. Besides NGO reports (Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders), other documents and literature, the following portrait is based on six expert interviews conducted in January 2015.
    Communication policy and regulations
    Malta is not only the smallest EU member state both in terms of geography and demography, but quite young as it only became independent from Great Britain in 1964. Consequently, there is still some British influence on the country – for example, the official languages are Maltese and English and a British company owned the first radio station in Malta. In 1939 the Britons prohibited censorship in Malta and with the Maltese independence, freedom of expression, freedom of information and diversity of opinion were included in the constitution as well as the right that “anyone who is resident in Malta may edit or print a newspaper or journal published daily or periodically” (Article 41). However, the freedom of expression is limited “under a variety of circumstances. Laws against ‘vilification’ of or ‘giving offense’ to the Roman Catholic faith, the country’s official religion, have led to restrictions on expression” (Freedom House, 2015).

    Criminal and civil libel cases are also common and “sometimes used to silence journalists and impede on the investigative work they do,” as In-Nazzjon editor in chief Nathaniel Attard explained in an interview (2015). However, Malta has very slow and expensive court system (Naudi, 2015) and after it was revealed that 185 libel cases were pending in the courts, with the oldest dating to 1997, the Justice Reform Commission made it a priority to change the procedural framework (Freedom House, 2015).

    Due to the fact that the “law penalizes slandering or insulting the Catholic faith” (Reporters Without Borders, 2016) and defamation cases against journalists or media outlets happen frequently, Malta ranks 46 of 180 in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Nevertheless, Malta is “free” regarding the Freedom of the Press Report of 2016 (Freedom House, 2016).

    Regulatory Bodies
    Regarding media regulations, the two most important laws are the Press Act (2012) defining press offences (e.g. defamatory libel, malicious publication of false news or instigation to commit offence) and rights of journalists (like protection of sources, Article 46) as well as the Broadcasting Act (2015) that established a basis for the Broadcasting Authority, a regulatory body relating to radio and television broadcasting. In addition, there is the Malta Communications Authority, which was established under the Malta Communications Authority Act (2016) and is based on the Electronic Communications (Regulation) Act (2016). The Malta Communications Authority has regulatory functions “regarding electronic communications, certain aspects of data protection in electronic communication, postal services, electronic commerce and similar areas in the field of communications” (Malta Communications Authority Act, 2016).

    While there are no other limitations for the press than general law, the broadcasting sector is much more regulated. For example, an amendment of 2000 to the Broadcasting Act permits “the same company to own one radio service, one television service and one radio or television broadcasting service devoted exclusively to teleshopping” (Axiak, 2008). “Whilst a limit as to the number of broadcasting stations which could be owned, controlled or editorially responsible for was imposed on the private sector, no such corresponding limit has been imposed on the Government” (ibid.). The Broadcasting Authority is responsible for balance and impartiality, and monitors both private stations and Public Broadcasting Services (PBS), states Joanna Spiteri, chief executive officer of the Broadcasting Authority. “We focus on accuracy and fairness in our daily work. Having stations owned by political parties, programs would be biased on either side. So it’s very, very difficult to balance in this case,” Spiteri (2015) explained. Further, she added, “during the electoral period, we are much more restrictive. We come up with a number of directives during the six weeks of the election, for instance, that the political parties should invite members from all the three political parties we have in Malta, and not just the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party, but also the small green party Alternattiva Demokratika.”

    Having the possibility for every political party to produce its own media outlets, the governing party has a heavy influence on the governance of PBS in certain ways as the government appoints “both its Managerial and Editorial boards” (Simunjak, 2015: 10). There is also an influence on both the Broadcasting Authority and the Communications Authority as the members are appointed either by “the president on the advice of the prime minister” (Freedom House, 2015) or the minister responsible for communications (Malta Communications Authority Act, 2016). “However, they seem to be independent in practice, and their decisions are deemed to be taken in the interest of the public” (Simunjak, 2015: 6). For both authorities the biggest challenge in the future will be the regulation of on-demand services and how to organise competences internally, as the Broadcasting Authority regulates content and the Communications Authority the technical transmission (interview with Spiteri, 2015).

    In addition, there is the sole journalists’ association in Malta: The Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM). It is recognised by the government and works in the areas of ethics, education, and professionalization. The IGM set up a Code of Journalistic Ethics that defines unethical behaviour. However, “the Institute’s Code is not the only code that is around. The Labour Party or the public broadcaster TVM have their own code,” IGM chairman Malcolm Naudi (2015) points out. Furthermore, he adds, “at the moment the current Code of Ethics what it does is that it can name and shame a journalist”, but the only three sanctions are disapproval, censure, and grave censure. In December 2016, the Code of Ethics was discussed at a national conference and a first paper was announced by the end of the month.

    In terms of professionalization, the IGM issues local press cards, which are recognised internationally, to all its members. Although the Department of Information also assigns press cards, these only give you access to government activities and can also be issued to not full-time journalists (interview with Malcolm Naudi, 2015).
    Media offers
    Compared to the country’s size there is a high level of media, as Joseph Borg (2015), a former lecturer for Media and Communications at the University of Malta, stated. Also remarkable is how Malta’s bilingualism is reflected in the media market, as for example there are newspapers in English as well as in Maltese. Furthermore, with regard to newspapers, language separates social groups. Another characteristic is the strong political parallelism, which becomes apparent in the ownership structure. All political parties own media outlets. The two big parties Partit Laburista (Labour Party) and Partit Nazzjonalista (Nationalist Party), which are in parliament, even own several outlets across different media sectors (newspapers, radio and TV stations).

    Additionally, noteworthy is the fact that Malta did not have an own news agency until 2013. Before that – and sometimes still today – “newsrooms mainly rely to coverage of international news agencies” (interview with Carmen Sammut, who is director of the International Relations Faculty of Arts at the University of Malta).

    The Malta News Agency “operates a partnership agreement with Italpress, a leading Italian news agency” (Malta News Agency, 2014). It is specialised on covering politics, economy, culture and sports. “Information from the Mediterranean area is also a leading feature” (ibid.).

    Print market
    The Maltese print market can be divided by language. According to Herman Grech, who is Head of Media at The Times of Malta, the eldest and biggest newspaper is the English-language The Times of Malta as well as its Sunday namesake published by Allied Newspaper Ltd. since the 1930s. On trustee of this foundation was Guido De Marco. De Marco is the former capital leader of the Nationalist Party and on this account, The Sunday Times “tends to give quite a lot attention to his family in general” (interview with Malcolm Naudi). Yet, The Times of Malta is perceived the most independent and the most read newspaper in Malta (interview with Spiteri, Borg, 2010). However, due to the low self-regulation in the press sector, there are no current valid figures available. The website Eurotopics suggests an average circulation of 18.000 in 2014, which is less than The Malta Independent (20.000). Counting the visits on the respective websites, though, The Times of Malta still is the most read newspaper (Eurotopics, 2016). The Malta Independent (English-language) owned by Standard Publications is its biggest competitor. The third English-language newspaper is tabloid Malta Today, which is published twice a week. Together with the Maltese tabloid Illum it is published by Media Today and has “the smallest circulation registered by the Sunday papers” (Borg, 2010).

    The Maltese-language newspapers with exception of Illum are owned by the big institutions of the country like political parties or the church (Borg, 2009a: 443). These “institutions finance their media, but also there is in the media of the institutions a level of voluntary work”, said Joseph Borg. The Labour Party, on the one hand, owns KullHadd that is published on Sundays and the official mouthpiece of the party. On the other hand, the Nationalist Party publishes the daily newspaper In-Nazzjon as well as the weekly Il-Mument. In all party press newspapers, the content selection is made by editorial directives (Borg, 2009a: 443). As Nathaniel Attard illustrates, “our first mission is to make sure that the message and the voice of the party is heard.” Regarding the finance both “political parties say that their stations are now self-sufficient” (interview with Joseph Borg). However, “three times a year they do this on-day-marathon wherein they ask people, probably their voters, and their supporters, to give them money. In this marathon last December they managed to get half a million of donations” (interview with Joanna Spiteri).

    The General Workers’ Union, which is pro Labour Party, owns the daily L-Orrizont and the weekly newspaper It-Torca. The church is also active in the print market. The weekly Lehen is-Sewwa is published since the 1930s and is sold almost on a subscription basis. Moreover, the church was publishing another weekly (Borg, 2009a: 443), which was stopped due to “a renaissance in its conversion to a digital and audiovisual production house” (The Church in Malta, 2014).

    The overall development shows that the print market is decreasing. “The revenue of print media is going down,” said journalist Herman Grech. This confirms Borg’s statement (2010): “The figures accruing from advertising are not officially published. Sources very close to the industry informed the author that during 2006 it is estimated that 10.56 million euro (9.89 million in 2002) were spent on newspaper advertising […]. Fifty percent of the total national advertising budget is spent on the print media while 39 percent is spent on the broadcast media”. As a consequence of the declining income, the commercial newspapers The Times of Malta as well as Malta Today “have a program on the public service broadcaster, which is Times Talk for The Times of Malta and Reporter from Malta Today. In my opinion, they are trying to sort of tap in that area as well. So the print media got into broadcasting scenario to tap advertising from there” (Joanna Spiteri). Furthermore, some newspapers (for example The Times of Malta) try to make money out of their websites by using a paid-content model (Joseph Borg).

    Broadcasting market
    The broadcasting market in Malta started in 1935 when a British-owned company introduced the first radio station, which became a state broadcaster later. It is a mixture of commercial, political and public broadcasting, as Joseph Borg put it. Malta Television, which is the public broadcaster, was established in 1962, “five years after the Maltese started receiving television signals from Italy. This happened in early 1957 when RAI set up a booster on Mount Camarata in Sicily to strengthen its signal there. Since then the Maltese became avid followers of different Italian channels” (Borg, 2010). An important milestone in the broadcasting sector was the introduction of radio pluralism (1991) and TV pluralism (1993), which enables others besides the PBS to own broadcasting stations. In 2016, television was the most used medium in Malta. 72.6 per cent of the population watched TV on a daily basis (The Media Warehouse Research, 2016). As for radio (roughly 53 per cent) and the internet (around 54 per cent), the usage is lower (ibid.). Overall, “radio listenership is going down” (Carmen Sammut).

    The Maltese public broadcaster runs the following radio stations: Radju Malta, that is the third most heard radio station (a reach of around 11 per cent), Radju Malta 2 and Magic, which is a music station with a reach of roughly 5 per cent (Broadcasting Authority, 2016: 4). Regarding television, the Maltese PBS has a high reach with TVM (33 per cent) and TVM 2 (roughly 3 per cent), which ranks seventh in the TV market (Broadcasting Authority, 2016: 12). The public stations are funded by a yearly grant from the government, as there are no broadcasting fees since the implementation of the National Broadcasting Policy in 2004. The remaining funding makes up to less than a third of the former revenue generated by the fee (Borg, 2009a: 448). Therefore, the public stations compete with other, commercial stations for advertisement revenues. In addition, the amount of the grant is determined yearly. That way the governing party can not only influence the governance of the public broadcasting by personnel decisions but also by its monetary policy (Simunjak, 2015: 10).

    With the second most watched TV channel One (almost 19 per cent) and the second most listened to radio One Radio (16 per cent) the Labour Party owns really successful broadcasters (Broadcasting Authority, 2016: 4; 12). The Nationalist Party, in contrast, runs the TV channel Net (around 10 per cent) and the radio station Radio 101 (9 per cent), which are still in the top five of the respective media (ibid.). In terms of financing, “the political stations run on a commercial level and need to earn some kind of money or to get help from the party or bankers. They need to advertise and collect money as well” (Carmen Sammut. That way the political stations compete with commercial TV and radio broadcasters for “the same piece of the advertising cake” (Nathaniel Attard). In that regard, it becomes apparent why political stations are more solvent than commercial broadcasters or community radio, which has an overall reach of less than two per cent (Broadcasting Authority, 2016: 4). Concerning the reach, commercial TV like ITV or Smash both have an incredibly small user rates (Broadcasting Authority, 2016: 12). In terms of television reach, Italy still is a relevant competitor in Malta. RAI (around 4 per cent) and Mediaset stations (around 13 per cent) are still frequently watched (ibid.).

    As for commercial radio stations that mostly play music are the most successful ones like Bay Radio (20 per cent), Vibe FM (7 per cent), Calypso Radio (6 per cent) or Smash Radio (4 per cent) (ibid.: 4). Apart from this, the church still is a player in the radio broadcasting market as it’s running the two stations Radju Marija (roughly 6 per cent) and RTK(6 per cent), which are in the top ten radio stations compared by reach (ibid.).

    As all broadcasters, even if subsidised by its owners or its connected institutions, compete for advertisement revenues it would be interesting to take a look at the accruing from advertising, but these figures are not officially published. Joseph Borg (2010) managed to get informed by “sources close to the industry” that during 2006 it is estimated that 9.38 million Euro (in comparison to 7.52 million in 2002) were spent on TV advertising (Borg, 2009a: 448). Regarding radio broadcasting, only 2.40 million euro (2.58 million in 2002) were spent on ads in 2006 (Borg, 2009a: 448).

    More than half of the Maltese use the internet on a daily basis (54 per cent). Among those aged under 24, the rate (96 per cent) is much higher (The Media Warehouse Research, 2016). In 2014 more than 80 per cent of the households in Malta and Gozo, which is the second biggest isle of the Maltese archipelago, had access to the internet (National Statistics Office Malta, 2015). That way the internet supports the idea of national identity and the country as a whole. It “can help Malta overcome the limitations of its physical smallness and insularity” (Borg, 2009b: 30). Furthermore, “with the growth of social media, I think that there is more choice and people can get in touch with other people in a more open way” (Malcolm Naudi). Besides the newspaper publishers that run also websites to the respective paper, Maltese institutions like the church or political parties perceive the internet as an important medium. The Nationalist Party, for example, owns the online news portal NET News (Nathaniel Attard), while the Church is publishing its newspaper il-Gensillum only in a digital version.
    Journalists' autonomy
    Malta is a small country and thus it is just coherent that there are not many journalists working on the isle state. Malcolm Naudi affirms this in regard to press cards, “they have issued, they’ll probably tell you over 400 press cards. None of these are full-time journalists,” and adds, “We are a very small country; the pool of talent is very small.” At the same time, journalists are “not exactly well paid.” Herman Grech from The Times of Malta counters, “journalists will always complain about their working conditions, their pay, the fact they spend the whole days in the office. They complain but I think most of them secretly love it”. Furthermore, as institutions like political parties are serious players in the media market, sometimes political affiliations take effect in terms of recruitment. “As you are not a political supporter of that party you don’t get a job” (Malcolm Naudi). However, journalists are mostly employed based on experience and qualifications. Especially in the media outlets owned by institutions, journalists tend to “not write in a particular way against the party” (Malcolm Naudi). This happens not against the will of the journalists, though, as they identify themselves with ‘their’ party (Nathaniel Attard). Herman Grech, for example, would he follow the guidelines of The Times quite strictly as “mistakes would not be tolerated. You make one mistake and that’s it”. Thus, journalism in Malta struggles with self-censorship. Nevertheless, being fair, impartial and accurate are important qualities, which are respected by Maltese journalists, who see themselves as an educator (Herman Grech), informer and point of reference for the society (Nathaniel Attard).

    As there are no courses in journalism at the Maltese University (Joseph Borg), IGM set up a foundation called the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism, which delivers courses to educate journalists in special fields. Overall, journalists’ standing in the society is not that good. Herman Grech speculates, “Maybe it’s because we don’t investigate as many stories as they do in the UK, in Germany, in France, where ever. But believe me, I’ve seen some people here perform miracles with the time limit they’ve given. Remember, this is a small country. We’re talking of an incredible small newsroom here.”
    This country report is largely based on a seminar paper composed by Marina Angelina Difonzo and Ricarda Seitz at LMU Munich in 2015. All interviews have been conducted by them in January 2015.

    Interviewed experts
    • Dr Joseph Borg, Rev., lecturer for Media and Communication at the University of Malta
    • Dr Carmen Sammut, director of the International Relations Faculty of Arts at the University of Malta
    • Nathaniel Attard, journalist at In-Nazzjon
    • Herman Grech, Head of Media at The Times of Malta and co-host of Times Talk
    • Malcolm J. Naudi, chairman of The Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM)
    • Joanna Spiteri, chief executive officer of the Broadcasting Authority
    Recommended citation form
    Antonia Paal: Malta. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date).