Saviour Balzan’s article in MaltaToday is dead wrong and goes against the press’s interest, particularly mine. I will explain.
Saviour Balzan has a media business which is supported by government funding. The ethics of this business model is questionable at best. Still, if push comes to shove, Saviour has successfully built over the years an independent newspaper and no one can take that away from him. For this reason, I have always respected Saviour because he could create an independent media company; a tough feat in Malta. The problem is that Saviour’s business model has become overtly dependent on the government with MaltaToday also becoming at risk of becoming compromised by his business model.
The Shift News, an independent media agency derives its income fully from private donors and the Shift has a functioning newsroom with paid employees. This means that somehow, the press in Malta can and does exist without the government’s help.
What’s happening right now is that two different and distinct media groups are forming composed of the traditional press which is becoming increasingly dependent on government funding and the new independent media which does not need government funding to survive. Along with the government-funded press, there is nowadays a myriad of fake media entities posing as press which are in fact propaganda outlets for the Labour Party. Saviour Balzan also owns another newspaper which is Illum and is pro-Labour. The majority of the government-funded press in Malta is pro-government and pr0-Labour.
Saviour Balzan was on the press reform committee which was used by the government to rubber-stamp its proposed authoritarian reform. Saviour, admittedly didn’t agree with the government’s position, but the way the committee was set up and the way its members went along with a compromised remit, Saviour’s actions gave more weight to the government’s authoritarian proposals. Given that Saviour’s businesses have become dependent on government funding, Saviour couldn’t take the proper position on the press reform committee: he had to be polite with the people of the government, but this situation went against our interest (the press industry) because what Saviour should have done in those circumstances was to resign altogether from the committee and use his influence and contacts in the press industry to help us come up with our own press reform independent of government’s fascistic proposals.
Saviour’s article is self-interested, but this is wrong. Saviour should be and act as the bigger man in the press industry, and he actually is the bigger man amongst us both literally and figuratively. He should take a leading role and use his leverage with the government to seek our common interest, but so far, this he made within the parameters of what immediately is good for his business and not for the whole press industry.
If it was up to me, and if I were selfish like Saviour I would propose this. Cut, immediately and right now all government funding to the press, because this would benefit me greatly. I too have an employee and pay contractors and people off. I don’t receive government funds for my press business and I dedicate time to it every, single day. I am disadvantaged in building my press and publishing businesses because the government funds the established players, and in some circumstances, public entities like the National Book Council even conjure up schemes to support my competitors at my own expense.
If I didn’t make money elsewhere, and had I still wanted to work with the press, my only choice would have been to apply for a job with MaltaToday but that would have not been possible anyway because Saviour would never employ me (twice I had applied to work for MaltToday way back in the past and I was never accepted). Of course, I am speaking rhetorically, because nowadays, I’d rather starve to death than apply for a job, but you get my point. Given that Saviour has a government-funded business in a money-losing business, the only way you can work in this business is either by building your own business with Herculean efforts (like Caroline did), or else go to work with MaltaToday. I’m trying to be like Caroline and it’s very bloody tough and I can only this (again, I retort) only because I get money from other sources and not by writing on this website. I can’t even get a bank loan – that’s how disadvantaged I am. My disadvantages would be reduced and the playing field would be equalized if government funding would immediately stop. MaltaToday and Times of Malta would go out of business and I would grow significantly at their expense. So, of course, the government wants to keep the status quo because it is in its own interest.
As for the safety of journalism, I am being compelled to do this against my own will because Saviour is not telling the truth. Hard-hitting investigative journalism is not safe in Malta and even his own editors, like Matthew Vella would admit to this (Matthew Vella recently described his experience of how he was threatened by oil smuggler, Darren Debono). The popular culture and sentiment in the country as stirred by the Labour Party is against us, and it’s against us in a very hot and aggressive manner. I have reproduced a sample below (don’t show this to my mother, you bloody idiots). This website would not have been possible had I remained in Malta, let’s be very clear.
So, no. I don’t agree with Saviour that the press should be given government funding. I am being disadvantaged by this model. What the government should do is force banks to provide us with big and flexible credit lines and loans which we can use to grow our businesses – this equalises the playing field because it brings more capitalism and meritocracy in our industry in contrast to having an industry pumped up by government contacts, support and funding that rewards allies and punishes critics whilst also serving as a barrier of entry to new entrants in the industry.
This is very simple. The less money the Maltese press receives from the government, the more I will grow at their expense due to the barrier of entry that these government subsidies have created in the industry.
We need private credit, not public funds.
Having said that I remain a friend to Saviour and respect him as someone who did a net benefit in the industry over the long haul. This doesn’t mean I am going to agree with him or support his business model. I am technically also on a competing level with him and I can do this respectfully.