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NEWS | Wednesday, 26 September 2007

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James Debono

Labour MP Helena Dalli has expressed concern over the government’s haste to dispose of the Public Broadcasting Service’s assets on the eve of a general election. Reacting to MaltaToday’s Midweek story published last Wednesday that PBS intends to demolish Television House to replace it with flats and develop a substantial part of Rediffusion House for commercial and real estate purposes, the MLP’s spokesperson on broadcasting asked: “Why is this happening on the eve of a general election? Why the haste? Who is being appeased?” The government intends to locate the PBS headquarters in a part of Rediffusion House and sell the “left over” sites to finance the construction of PBS’s new headquarters. Dalli hit out at Investments Minister Austin Gatt for simultaneously speaking about how well PBS is doing. “This does not make sense: if we are to believe the minister that the company is doing well, why would government go about selling such a prime site? Why would one want to sell?” But according to the government, the sale of the land is merely intended to finance the building of “a centralised and more compact premises would be far more efficient from an operational point of view.” The investments ministry made it clear that the government has not yet approved the final plan as a feasibility study is pending, but has given its clearance for the application. It also made it clear that PBS will not be involved in the selling of apartments, but it intends to sell Television House and parts of Redifussion House after MEPA permits are issued. “This would ensure a more comprehensive development from a planning point of view, whilst at the same time also making it easier to market and sell the respective properties accordingly.” But Dalli expressed her disagreement with the stripping of public assets. “The government ought to be ashamed to be selling our property in this manner. It would be an understatement to say that the Labour party does not agree with this way of doing things.” She said a national TV station “ought to be housed properly and have decent studios and all that goes with a television and radio station.” Bouts of nostalgia Contacted by MaltaToday, veteran broadcaster George Peresso says his heart was broken when seeing the MEPA notice that Television House was to make way for apartments even if he has taken a “stoic” approach to happenings in PBS. Peresso, who already suffered a blow when classical music station Radju Bronja was closed down, says that “(his) heart suffered from an angioplasty of sentiments.” “The face of national broadcasting has changed a lot, and I was not so surprised.” He still describes Television House and the Redifussion building as “a home where his dreams came true”. But Peresso is stoical in the face of the latest news: “Obviously I cannot expect the government to stop development simply because of my iconoclastic nostalgia.” For Peresso, change was necessary at PBS but he cautioned the government not “to throw out the baby with the bath water”. “I understand that public broadcasting should not lose money but at the same time it should not become like the Catania market.” Charles Flores, another pioneer of national broadcasting and a Labour leaning columnist in It-Torca, would not let his nostalgia cloud his judgment. “I see no reason why old, unattractive and non-historical buildings with obsolete equipment and obsolete facilities, such as Television House, should not be pulled down and put on the market.” What worries Flores more are the plans for Broadcasting House, parts of which are also to be developed as apartments and commercial areas. “PBS needs to have a proper headquarters, properly run and professionally equipped to cater for its four divisions: News, Radio, Television and Administration.” Flores has fond memories: “Rediffusion House, later renamed Broadcasting House after nationalisation in 1975 brings back ‘Beat u Letteratura’, the popular literature programme produced by the Moviment Qawmien Letterarju in the late 1960s.” The redevelopment of Redifission house however does not bode well for the future of public broadcasting, Flores says. “It certainly does not augur well and I hope the forthcoming general elections will be in time to help frustrate all such plans,” adding that over the past four years PBS had been reduced to a “relay station for the privileged amongst the independent production houses”. [email protected]


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