VALLETTA, Malta — As the electoral campaign for the European Parliament elections in May picks up momentum, the Malta Broadcasting Authority is, for the first time, letting candidates advertise with paid spots on radio stations.
In a directive sent to all local radio broadcasters, the authority indicated that the adverts could only provide information on meetings the candidates were organizing, and must be funded by the contender and not their party.
Furthermore, each advert cannot be longer than 30 seconds and, somewhat strangely, must air between 9 and 10 a.m. and between 6 and 7 p.m. In addition, each candidate is only allowed one advert per hour during these allocated times.
According to the directive, the mantle is on the stations to establish a “just and transparent procedure” for the order in which the adverts are broadcast, while excluding any advert requires a reasonable justification.
The scheme, which is running this month, could be extended after an evaluation by the Authority, based on reports the stations submit.
As is always the case with Maltese politics, the new decree has not been received with general acclaim. In a statement, the Democratic Party, Partit Demokratiku (PD), quickly announced it was concerned by the possibility provided to European Parliament candidates to buy promotional time.
The PD believes the system goes against the constitution because the two large parties are given precedence in the elections and that they already dominate the media infrastructure. “The big parties are in a position to dominate radio stations with their money, in breach of Article 119 of the Constitution,” said PD leader Dr. Godfrey Farrugia.
The PD also claims the country’s broadcasting watchdog doesn’t have an “independent function that an impartial institution should have.” Farrugia added that the “appointment of the current members of the organization was not done in the public interest but in the interest of the island’s two big parties.” The Broadcasting Authority has not publicly reacted to the PD’s comments.
Even though the new directive opens some space for candidates to promote their initiatives via the airwaves, it does ban the parties themselves from advertising. And, while the decree has been subject to controversy, most media observers here feel the authority’s decision could offer a timely financial injection to several of Malta’s ailing radio stations.