Austin Gatt’s fierce restructuring process at the national broadcasting company has left Television Malta with the lowest in-house productions this year, as virtually all prime time programmes and more are ending up produced by independent production companies.
The 2005 PBS editorial board report released last week shows a shocking reduction in broadcasting hours of programmes produced by TVM.
Prepared by the editorial board’s chairman just before Gatt accepted his resignation, the report states that from 735 production hours in 2003, the station went down to 345 last year and 205 hours this year.
With the PBS work force stripped down to a third of its original complement, the board notes that TVM has ended up producing just 4 per cent of its productions and co-productions this year, excluding news. The decrease in productions also affected sports.
The board notes that, conversely, it is teleshopping that is increasing on TVM.
“Unfortunately this year teleshopping has increased and there were even efforts to improve their production,” the report says.
In fact, from 600 minutes per week in 2003, teleshopping minutes went up to 780 last year and 870 this year.
While slamming this year’s programme schedule for its commercial bias at the expense of public broadcasting, the editorial board report sheds light on the disagreement with the board of directors about the kind of programmes selected.
It says “the board of directors has no right to say that a programme should not be broadcast because it is not editorially of good quality”. Nor can the directors’ board “deem that a programme is good for broadcasting when the editorial board has deemed it unacceptable”.
The report also warns PBS “not to depend on a few production houses” but to widen its net to include other proposals and start doing co-productions.
It is clear that the PBS experience in farming out programmes and selling air time has also affected negatively the quality and control of editorial content.
“Because of commercial demands, there were cases where programmes were ‘stretched’ so that whoever bought air time would have more time for advertising,” the report states, adding that diverse independent producers are reducing advertising rates, affecting badly the PBS revenue.
The board also remarks that it was after its “strong insistence” that certain programmes it deemed unacceptable were not included in the schedule.
“We undoubtedly note that the worst possible death for a public broadcasting company is that of abandoning or ignoring its mission, and in so doing losing its reason for existing,” the report concludes. “It seems to us that this is already happening, to a certain extent, through the schedule adopted for TVM, and even more in the mentality prevailing within the company.”