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NEWS | Sunday, 24 February 2008

After GO’s silence, Sonny dives into election talk

Matthew Vella

His company may have declared a blackout on reporting the general elections, but GO chairman Sonny Portelli still thinks the elections are important to him.
Portelli has refused claims that his presence on TVM’s news programme Dissett earlier this week, to discuss the general elections, was in any way contradictory with GO’s corporate decision not to cover the elections through its news portal di-ve.com.
“My presence on the programme was in a purely personal capacity, as was made amply clear by the presenter, Mr Reno Bugeja,” Portelli told MaltaToday.
He said he failed to see “even a tenuous connection” between his company’s policy and his presence on Dissett to discuss the general elections. “The decision not to cover the elections through di-ve.com was taken in the context of the severely limited resources available at di-ve.com and our opinion that it is better not to do a job than to do it in a shoddy and incomplete manner.  It is clear that this approach to professionalism is not shared by everyone.”
The decision by GO to stop di-ve.com reporting the general elections was taken after some senior government officials expressed serious concern that di-ve was leaning too far towards Labour.
Despite boasting 40,000 unique visitors daily, and having also covered the 2003 referendum and elections, GO’s decision not to cover the general elections has disappointed its readers.
Portelli has denied discussing his company’s news portal with the Office of the Prime Minister, prior to the company decision not to report the elections. “It is probably futile to comment further since it is clear that your newspaper has already taken a stand that my participation in a discussion programme somehow contradicts GO’s corporate policy: nothing anyone says, I submit, will sway you from this, even though, to my mind, it is clearly illogical,” Portelli told MaltaToday on Friday.
GO’s policy attracted protest from both the Institute of Maltese Journalists and the Journalists’ Committee, as well as the European Federation of Journalists.
Although a meeting was held with di-ve.com journalist Paul Cachia on 12 December, the prime minister’s press secretary Josephine Vassallo said the journalist was convened to discuss how di-ve.com could be “more involved in government activities because they did not have enough resources, by offering our assistance on press releases for example,” she had told MaltaToday.
Similarly, Portelli had stated that GO did not have “enough resources to cover the elections. We are not investing any more resources because our core business is not di-ve.com.”
But Vassallo denied having expressed any concern over the type of news coverage di-ve.com was giving to government.
Portelli had also stated he was “very tranquil” with the decision, saying di-ve.com was a “peripheral product” and a “drop in the ocean”.
Portelli has denied any government pressure. When asked whether OPM officials had spoken to GO chief executive David Kay over concerns on objective news reporting, Portelli had told MaltaToday that nobody from GO’s board of directors had spoken to him.

mvella@mediatoday.com.mt



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