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News • October 10 2004

Minister clashes with PBS Chairman

Investments Minister Austin Gatt has made it clear to PBS Chairman Michael Mallia that “certain decisions” taken during the ongoing restructuring process “are not in line with Ministry policies”, according to a statement sent to MaltaToday late Saturday evening.

A ministry spokesman sent the statement after questions e-mailed by MaltaToday on Friday to the Chief Executive about several controversial decisions taken at the national broadcasting station remained unanswered (see B’Kara coach appointed PBS sports head).

“The ministry is aware that the Chairman of PBS has taken certain decisions that are not in line with ministry policies,” the statement said, without adding further details. “A meeting between the minister and the chairman was in fact held last Thursday to discuss various issues. While recognising that a restructuring exercise on the ground is far different from one on paper, the ministry nevertheless wishes to emphasise that policy parameters are paramount. In view of the situation that has evolved, the minister will be reporting to Cabinet and suggesting further action that should be taken.”

B’Kara coach appointed PBS sports head

Karl Schembri

The PBS restructuring process reached surreal heights last week with the appointment of the financial controller at the station and coach of Birkirkara FC, Stephen Azzopardi, to Head of Sports, in what is a clear conflict of interest.

PBS Chief Executive Andrew Psaila declined to comment when contacted, and questions sent by e-mail about the appointment remained unanswered, but outside the national broadcasting station the news has caused bewilderment and criticism.

Football commentators say Azzopardi’s position as B’Kara coach should have made him accept “anything but sports”.

“What will he do when PBS has to report about his own team?” one observer said. “Even when it’s not directly about his team, his journalistic judgement will always be impaired for as long as he remains with the team.”

Azzopardi’s appointment was not the only one to baffle observers of the ongoing restructuring at PBS.

The appointment of four new journalists following the exodus of some of the most experienced talent at the newsroom is still a mystery for some who were called for interviews.

Sources say PBS might well end up employing five, if not six journalists, although the reasons behind this possible decision are still unclear. Daphne Cassar Darien – formerly a part-time reporter – has been selected, as have been Mario Micallef of RTK and Antonia Micallef of Net TV. Sources say that Super 1 sports reporter Norma Saliba has also been selected, but her appointment remains clouded in mystery as another person who was interviewed had purportedly fared better with the selection board. Also, yet another interviewee who works with Net TV was informed that he was selected. Questions sent to the chief executive about journalists’ recruitment also remained unanswered.

But the most difficult appointment is proving to be that of news manager, almost three months since the first call for applications was made. A handful of people selected have changed their minds in the process while others disagreed about the financial package, and others still were discarded by the selection board.

Sources also pointed out the glaring contradiction in the restructuring process (they refer to it as “destructuring”), whereby people who are paid thousands of public money for early retirement are being then re-engaged by the station.

A former full-time mechanic who received Lm17,000 according to the early retirement scheme is now working privately on the same PBS vehicles he used to service. An engineer who was in charge of the maintenance of the Gharghur antenna, who got a similar early retirement payment, is also now contracted privately to keep doing the same job. Even about these cases, Psaila declined to answer any questions.

Meanwhile journalists Anna Bonanno and Paul Azzopardi have been redeployed with the Department of Information, while Manwel Zammit, Alfred Mousù and Victor Grech are still awaiting news of where they will be transferred. 

Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta