NEWS | Sunday, 04 November 2007

PBS inside information leaked to Bondì

The acting head of the PBS editorial board, Dominic Fenech, has raised the alarm at the national station about confidential internal information leaked to Bondiplus presenter, Lou Bondì, after the latter admitted in a press release that he knew which programme was intended to replace his.

Reacting to a story published in MaltaToday about the editorial board’s and the Broadcasting Authority’s decision to stop him from holding a programme on the budget two weeks ago, Bondì blamed Fenech for wanting “to take Bondiplus off-air permanently” when John Camilleri was still chairman of the same board.

He also let slip that he was in the know about the editorial board’s internal discussions earlier this year that would have led to his programme’s removal to be replaced by other programmes, including a proposed programme by Media Today – the company which publishes this newspaper.

“This man (Fenech) wanted to take Bondiplus off-air permanently,” Bondì wrote. “I will let your readers decide why Fenech is now doing everything possible to prevent me from doing the job I have been doing on PBS for 15 years. And of course, I will also let your readers decide why Karl Schembri never mentions that Dominic Fenech wanted to substitute Bondiplus with programmes presented by journalists from the MaltaToday stable.”

The editorial board’s decision, which was unknown to Media Today and the MaltaToday journalist mentioned by Bondì, was however inexplicably revoked by the PBS Board of Directors, leading to Camilleri’s resignation after an acrimonious conflict with chairman Joe Fenech Conti.

But upon receiving a copy of Bondì’s press release, Fenech reacted by raising the issue on the editorial board last week. He told MaltaToday that “if PBS was run seriously, it would investigate this serious issue”.

“It is clear Bondì was given insider information when he said I wanted to remove his programme to replace it with a programme proposed by Media Today,” Fenech said.

“He is incorrect in attributing the decision to me personally, as it was an editorial board decision, but he is right in saying we wanted him out. So it is obvious someone must have told him what was being discussed, that we had considered positively a Media Today proposal and that he was not short listed.

“It is a very serious and delicate issue. Here you have one of the tenderers for a PBS programme being informed about his competitors. How did he get to know? All the editorial board members denied leaking the information to Bondì. All I know is that the board minutes are forwarded to the PBS chairman. If PBS were a serious station I would expect an investigation.”

Saviour Balzan, managing editor at MediaToday, said: “The fact that our programme Reporter was selected to replace Bondiplus is news to me. I am more than convinced that when the board of directors overturned the editorial board they took the independence, the credibility and objectivity of the host of the programme into consideration.”

PBS chairman Joe Fenech Conti was however unperturbed by Fenech’s protest at the sensitive leak.

“Given the unfortunate circumstances regarding the well publicised selection process for the winter schedule on TVM, I am not at all surprised that certain ‘internal’ information is now in possession of a TVM producer,” Fenech Conti said.

“Under normal circumstances, where the interests of PBS are the only item on the agenda, the Board of Directors, Editorial Board, management and producers act as one team. In this scenario board members, management and producers would express their views freely and not feel they are ‘leaking’ information. The end result on TV is the fruit of co-operation between all the said parties.”

Claiming that the board of directors took on board more than 90 per cent of the editorial board’s recommendations for the winter schedule, Fenech Conti admitted that “Bondiplus remains the main bone of contention”.

In fact, the board has defended its decision to overrule the editorial board on the grounds that Bondì had credibility and would be the best choice to lead current affairs programmes in election year.

“The Board of Directors and I feel that the programme was in the commercial interests of the company since properly produced current affairs topics attract larger audiences. I want to point out here that properly produced current affairs programming on television, besides the aesthetic, research and production values, also means impartiality. We are proud that TVM has never been found guilty of breaching impartiality laws and we will defend this record.”

Meanwhile Fenech cancelled a meeting with the Broadcasting Authority that was meant to discuss ways of easing the authority’s regulations requesting current affairs producers to inform it a month in advance of their subjects and guests.

Fenech wanted to assure the BA there was no need for such a requirement given that his board was there to ensure the overall balance and impartiality the authority wanted to guarantee.

Yet he cancelled the meeting at the last minute after the board of directors overruled the editorial board for the umpteenth time in deciding Bondì could go on with his budget programme.

“The situation is very frustrating,” Fenech said. “I wanted to convince the BA there is no need to take this measure of having a list of topics and guests a month in advance to ensure balance and impartiality, as the editorial board could take care of that Constitutional requirement internally, on the assumption that the editorial board could be relied on.

“But it’s clear I can’t give my word on that now, when Fenech Conti insists he and the board of directors have the last word on editorial content. When it became clear the board of directors would proceed with their decision, against ours, I decided to cancel the meeting. The truth is that ultimately, the PBS watchdog on impartiality is being kept out.”

Fenech Conti however hit back at what he called “a handful of self-proclaimed prophets”.

“In the interest of its audience and public service commitments, PBS will keep on managing its business on impeachable ethical grounds without ever being hostage to a handful of self-proclaimed prophets, keen to assist to the downfall of the station. I trust that all parties responsible to co-operate and produce TVM programming will put as their priority PBS interests and not their personal agendas.”

Tomorrow, Bondiplus was meant to discuss Azzjoni Nazzjonali but Bondì changed the subject of his programme yet again to discuss Labour’s proposals in reaction to the budget.

This time round, the MLP accepted to participate in the programme as according to its secretary general, Bondì “followed procedure” in inviting party representatives through him.

“I know the programme was meant to discuss something else but this time Lou Bondì sent his invitation for our deputy leader through me, as is our normal procedure,” Jason Micallef said.

“Lou can call me a gardener as much as he likes but in the end he had to accept our procedure, and he has come to terms with the fact that he has to pass through me,” Micallef added, hitting back at Bondì’s dig last Wednesday on MaltaToday Midweek in which he referred to the programme Naturambjent that the MLP secretary general used to present on TVM.

“He knows as much about journalism as I do about the gardening programmes he used to present on PBS,” Bondì wrote.

Read Bondì in letters to the editor

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04 November 2007

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