The Times journalist Natalino Fenech was yesterday confirmed as the new Head of News and registered editor for Public Broadcasting Services, after the resignation of Sylvana Cristina a couple of weeks ago.
Speaking to MaltaToday Midweek yesterday night, Fenech said his appointment came after he had long expressed interest in the post.
“I was approached by the PBS Chairman, who asked me whether I was still interested in the post after it became vacant again,” Fenech said.
Incidentally, The Times yesterday carried an editorial called ‘No news manager is bad news’, calling for the immediate replacement of Cristina.
“Ideally, a suitable candidate should be found immediately to fill the post of registered editor and news manager,” The Times said. “Past experience and cumbersome recruiting mechanisms make this quite unrealistic, at least for a few weeks. An ad hoc solution has, therefore, to be found, especially with an impending election.”
The 45-year-old journalist and author of Fatal Flight, The Maltese Obsession with Killing Birds – a highly controversial book about the indiscriminate hunting of migratory birds over Malta – pre-empted criticism of bias which is most often levelled by the Opposition towards The Times by saying his only agenda was objective news.
“It is a long tested tactic to label people by associating them with one side or the other,” he said. “All I can say is that my agenda is to give objective and fair news.”
Only a day before his appointment, a magistrate’s court ruled in his favour in a libel case filed against him by General Workers’ Union Deputy Secretary General Gejtu Mercieca, whom Fenech had described as stubborn and responsible for the loss of jobs at Interprint and Sea Malta.
Yet Labour’s spokesperson on public broadcasting, Helena Dalli, was quick to shoot down Fenech’s appointment.
“Is this a political appointment? How did this happen? Why did they not issue calls for applications?” Dalli said. “They could have processed them in one day if things were so urgent, but they did none of this. There are too many questions that have to be answered, and we owe it to the people to seek these answers, and we’ll investigate this appointment till the truth comes out. It is only a symptom of government’s state of panic to go for this kind of appointment on election eve. Everyone knows Fenech’s bias towards the PN; his editorial line is obvious. He had every right to do that but now he’s on the public broadcaster it’s unacceptable.”
Fenech will be entering the state broadcaster at the hottest time possible on the eve of the general election.
“It’s true this is perceived as a hotter period than others but the rules of impartiality and objectivity always apply, both pre and post-election,” he said.
Fenech is expected to start his work immediately from today even though Cristina gave 10 February as her last day of work.
He said he intends having more human interest stories and tackling political issues from different perspectives.
“There is much more than politics to our lives,” he said, “and I intend having that reflected in our bulletins. I don’t expect to make radical changes overnight; I have my ideas that are doable, gradually.”
Asked what he felt about the PBS restructuring that has led the station into one controversy after another, Fenech said: “I am joining PBS today, I can speak about what happens there from now on. I have little interest in history.
Fenech was also appointed in 2005 by Environment Minister George Pullicino as a member on the Committee for Identifying Waste-to-Energy Technology with a brief to come up with a report on the issue, which to this date remains unpublished.
Fenech, who also holds a PhD in geography from the University of Durham besides having studies communications at the University of Malta, started his journalistic career in 1992. He was news editor at The Malta Independent and had programme on PBS and Education 22.