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Opinion • November 21 2004

Who should resign at PBS?

I was not at all surprised to read/hear of the resignation of Michael Mallia from the chairmanship of the Public Broadcasting Services Ltd. When Michael was first appointed, I thought that Austin Gatt’s move to hand the chairmanship of the state broadcasting company to Michael was indeed a step in the right direction. In fact, I did express my view, then, with the people that matter in the broadcasting field that Michael could succeed in stirring the public broadcasting station out of the mess it has been in for years.
My view was further strengthened when, within days of his appointment, he took a couple of decisions that must have relieved the station’s expenditure bill considerably, and within a relatively short period of time. I, for one, had long been advocating certain cuts in expenditure that I consider, the people at the helm, entered into extravagantly, without giving it a thought, and with their eyes shut.
The manner, in which PBS’s business was conducted, over the years, left its many Boards exposed to serious and continuous criticism. This notwithstanding, I do not recall that there was ever the slightest retaliation from PBS’s direction or the ministry concerned, to counter-argue the criticism hurled at the station or any of the individuals appointed by government to manage the business. This passive approach, by all concerned, is a firm confirmation that government’s choice of personnel had, time and again, left much to be desired.
It is even more disturbing when one considers government’s persistent attitude in this regard. Most of the appointees do not only lack the necessary management skills that are necessary to contribute to the station’s salvage operation, but were unfit and improper even to have their name suggested for the posts in the first instance. To my mind many of them lacked the basic knowledge of the legal responsibilities directorships carry with them.
What actually surprised me was the news that Minister Gatt’s clash with the PBS chairman was being dragged before Cabinet. Assuming that, as was reported, the ministry responsible claimed that the PBS chairman had overstepped his mandate, I hardly see any scope for bothering Cabinet ministers with the issue. Isn’t the minister empowered to replace him? Was it Austin Gatt or Cabinet that appointed Michael Mallia?
Unfortunately, the lack of transparency culture still reigns supreme in this country. Regretfully, both sided to the ‘conflict’ refrained from giving reasons for the stand each side took in the resignation saga. I still believe that there has been little change, if at all, in today’s politics from the mentalities ruling in the seventies. Unfortunately, ‘the new way of making politics’ promised by the current PM on taking office, never came to fruition. No wonder speculations in this country thrive.
Though the ministry accused Mallia of exceeding his limits, one cannot say whether these parameters, in fact, were sufficient enough to permit him to operate. If they were restrictive, then Michael should not have accepted the challenge in the first place.
Having said this, and whatever the limitations were, I want to believe that Michael Mallia did not take decisions unilaterally. I also want to believe that the former PBS chairman is responsible enough to put certain controversial issues before his Board of directors for a decision. If that was the case then all Board members who supported his action(s), whatever these may have been, are equally responsible and hence, should likewise face the axe.
It would be interesting for the minister concerned to make it his business and endeavour to find out whether Michael Mallia’s ‘unauthorised’ actions, which earned him the sack, could have been the result of some bad advice from the people around him. In that case, they too deserve the boot for their wrong advice.
Once neither the Minister nor Michael Mallia felt it appropriate to give reasons for the unhappy situation that has arisen, one has to rely on what one reads or hears. I have to reiterate once again my constant criticism of government’s inability to appoint responsible personnel to ensure the necessary effectiveness and efficiency in the running of public entities, with particular reference to public broadcasting.
The minister has been told, time and again, that the first thing that was needed to reform public broadcasting was a Board of directors that has the courage, the diligence and the determination to make public broadcasting earn the respect of all, irrespective of colour or creed.
Unfortunately, the advice has been consistently ignored, and I am not at all convinced that this time government will take heed of my recommendations. With government’s passive approach to the PBS issue, the speculation that government is aiming at the elimination of the station once and for all cannot be ignored. If that were truly government’s intention, I would change tack and recommend government stick to its current tactics, for success would then be assured.
In an interview Fr Joe Borg gave to journalist Karl Schembri (MaltaToday 8 August), he spoke very highly of the might of the two men who failed to see eye-to-eye so early in the day, and the successes he foresees in the restructuring of PBS. I wonder what the true vision of Fr Joe Borg is, vis-à-vis PBS’s future, particularly now that ‘the dynamic presence of Austin Gatt and Michael Mallia’ is no more?
At this point in time, PBS’s state of affairs seem to have gone from bad to worse, and the future does not augur well either. So much so that, it is said, that Fr Joe has taken upon himself other responsibilities including the newsroom. Doesn’t this move render the editorial board superfluous to say the least?
Isn’t it high time that the reverend gentleman acknowledges his limitations, and resigns his post(s) while downsizing the editorial board to the three senior permanent staff of the station? Would this not save PBS unnecessary costs, Mr Minister?
Fr Joe should seriously reconsider his position within PBS.





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