Broadcasting in Malta
The origin of broadcasting in Malta dates back to the first broadcast transmitted from the Naval Wireless Station at Rinella in 1933. In 1934 an agreement was reached between the Government of Malta and the Rediffusion Group of Companies to set up a sound wired system in Malta and Gozo. Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd inaugurated its broadcasting services in Malta on November 11, 1935.
In 1935, radio broadcasting began in Malta by a company called Broadcast Relay (Service) Malta Ltd., which in 1955 changed its name to Rediffusion Malta Ltd., which had been given the power and authority by the Government of Malta to operate sponsored radio programmes as well as ordinary commercial radio programmes.
Rediffusion Radio was initially launched, with the aim of countering Fascist propaganda from Italy. It had been given a complete monopoly of broadcasting of news, features, music and entertainment to about 50,000 subscribers.
Rediffusion Malta made available for sponsorship a wide variety of transcribed programmes, featuring top-line stars, from the finest production houses in Britain, America, Canada, and Australia. They were available to British advertisers from approximately £2 15s. 0d. (£2. 75 ) net per quarter hour and pro rata. They clearly enjoyed the benefits of radio sponsorship and made a lot of money out of it.
Rediffusion (Malta) Limited’s control over broadcasting was further developed on 28th September 1961 when a contract was signed between the Government of Malta and the Malta Television Services which among other things bound the company to start operating a television station in Malta. The transmissions were launched on 29 September 1962. This company enjoyed an almost absolute monopoly until the 8th January 1973 when Radio Malta was set up and managed by the Malta Broadcasting Authority.
The Broadcasting Authority was set up on 29th September 1961 with the Broadcasting Ordinance, Ordinance XX of 1961, brought into force under Admiral Sir Guy Grantham. The Malta Broadcasting Authority, as it was originally known, replaced the Government Broadcasting Board, and in 1964, the Authority was upgraded to a Constitutional authority and renamed Broadcasting Authority.
It was the run-up to Independence. As from 28th September, 1961 this company also had the obligation to develop all forms of broadcasting including visual. In fact, a year after the set-up of the Malta Broadcasting Authority, television broadcasts started.
From the outset the primary regulatory function of the Broadcasting Authority was that of ensuring impartiality and balance in sound and television broadcasts, and with independence in 1964, the Authority was given sovereignty through Articles 118 and 119 of the Constitution of Malta.
From the outset the primary regulatory function of the Broadcasting Authority was that of ensuring impartiality and balance in sound and television broadcasts, and with independence in 1964, the Authority was given sovereignty through Articles 118 and 119 of the Constitution of Malta.
In 1975 Telemalta Corporation was established by ACT XVI of parliament. This corporation became responsible for broadcasting in Malta and the company became known as Xandir Malta. Radio Malta was incorporated in this company.
In September 1990 a White Paper was published setting out proposals for a new framework enabling the expansion of radio and television services in Malta based on the concept of pluralism. A draft broadcasting bill was presented to Parliament on 8th March 1991 and, after 22 parliamentary sessions, the new bill was enacted and brought into effect on 1st June 1991. And thus, the Broadcasting Ordinance of 1961, which had regulated the broadcasting sector for the previous 30 years, was repealed by the Broadcasting Act 1991 which introduced pluralism in broadcasting.
Broadcasting bewtween 1961 and 1971
The Broadcasting Authority was set up during a period when an interim constitution was operative and provided for an Executive Council under the British Rule. It was a time of struggle for Malta’s independence, a time when every effort was also being made by the British to safeguard their foreign investment on these islands, and amid a political-religious struggle between the Church and the MLP in 1961.
From the start, the Broadcasting Authority’s role was that of the country’s broadcasting regulator. As from 29th September 1961, all sound and television broadcasting services in Malta (except those broadcast by the armed forces hosted in Malta) became the exclusive responsibility of the Authority.
These services were to be exclusively supplied by contractors appointed by the Authority. Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd., formerly Broadcast Relay Service (Malta) Limited, had operated wired sound broadcasting in Malta since 1935 under successive licences from the Governor. This service had progressively grown to the daily average broadcast of thirty-four hours of programming on two channels. Not only was Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd. granted the licence to develop all forms of broadcasting on 28th September 1961 but it was also granted an extension for 25 years of its licence for cable radio broadcasts when the previous licence was due to expire four years later.
Before this date, Rediffusion broadcast mainly programmes of an entertainment and general interest nature. The Department of Information was responsible for Schools Broadcasting and informative programmes on this service while the Government Broadcasting Board, a separate body, was responsible for a regular series of unscripted discussions and for Party Political Broadcasts.
The provisions of the Ordinance of 1961 laid down much stricter standards with regard to content and quality. Although this Ordinance was modelled and compared to the UK’s Independent Television Act of 1954 for the setting up of the Independent Television Authority in UK, the Ordinance introduced the concept of news and current affairs programmes in Malta. Although the main functions of the Authority were that of a supervisory and regulatory body charged with safeguarding general broadcasting standards in the public interest, unlike its counterpart in the UK, these services were to be provided by its contractors without prejudice to the right of the Authority to provide the services itself. In fact, the Ordinance also stipulated that the Authority was to spend each year the sum of £10,000 and £25,000 respectively on Wired Sound and Television broadcasting – unlike the Independent Television Act of UK.
The first meeting of the Broadcasting Authority was held at The Palace, Valletta on Monday 2nd October 1961 under the Chairmanship of Lt. Col. G. C. Micallef-Eynaud. The Authority’s offices were at 12, Old Treasury Street, Valletta, and the first staff was seconded from Government to the Broadcasting Authority. This included the Secretary to the Authority, Mr. Bellizzi, and his assistant, Mr. Ellul, together with a shorthand-typist (Ms Bugeja) and a messenger (Mr. Caruana). The premises in Valletta were rented at £345 per annum and the lease ran for three years certain and a further three years at the Authority‘s option.
With immediate effect, the Authority took control of the Schools Broadcasting in collaboration with the Department of Education, and of Party Political and General Election broadcasts.
Rediffusion was required to undertake a comprehensive local news service starting with a daily (five days a week) thirty minutes programme of news and views on current events supplemented by a weekly discussion programme in line with the programmes initiated by the previous Government Broadcasting Board. This ran into numerous difficulties as reported in the Authority’s First Annual Report – “A difficult political situation plus unfamiliarity with an independent impartial service of considerable difficulty and often controversy particularly in the matter of selection” of subject matter for discussion and news items reported.
The Authority also reported in its First Annual Report that certain sections of opinion holders of the population just “refused to take part in views concerning the political and constitutional situation of the country”. On the other hand, they were then “very quick in alleging bias of those who participated in such programmes”. While some of the opinion holders were “reportedly shy of self-expression” on this new service, on the other hand other opinion makers were “very suspicious of free comment and of the views of those who differ from them politically”. There was “an ingrained reluctance in Malta, not restricted to any particular section of society, to discussing matters of disagreement on the air. Too often the subjects discussed seemed to be of minor importance in comparison with the real issues at the moment”.
On the other hand, the same could not be said with regard to religious programmes broadcast on Rediffusion and which were considered highly important by local listeners. In spite of great effort put into the production of religious services from different parts of the islands, nothing could convince those taking part in broadcast religious services and ceremonies that the nature of the medium required greater thought and discipline in their representation. “The basic fact that a broadcast ceremony is not the same as a ceremony which was not broadcast” was difficult to conceive by those taking active part in such productions.
Religious broadcasts were already being aired by Rediffusion before the inception of the Broadcasting Authority, and the first step taken in 1961 by the Malta Broadcasting Authority was to invite the Catholic Religious Advisor of the BBC, Fr. Agnellus Andrew O.F.M., to visit Malta and report his impressions on the local broadcasting scenario of such programmes. He reported that “the occasional outside broadcast of rallies or functions … are much too long, too diffuse, and too unorganised for good broadcasting … with the speakers, particularly if they are lay and inexperienced, carried away by the emotion of the moment … and involve the broadcaster, who has editorial responsibility, in grave difficulties.”
This was the broadcasting scenario of such religious programmes – “it was unsuitable for broadcasting, merely being a skimming of the sound off the top of a ceremony not designed for sound, and requiring physical presence in the building for full understanding. The panegyrics were quite the wrong style for broadcasting, the music was exceedingly florid, and the work of the orchestra and singers not of high quality. But the chief impression was that the whole thing had essentially no real religious effect at all”.
The same, however, cannot be said with regard to school broadcasting on Rediffusion. This had previously been organised by the School Broadcasting Unit within the Department of Education. Although the Authority could pass over the responsibility for the production of such programmes to its contractor, the Authority assumed full responsibility and financing of all School Broadcasts which were designed primarily for Government Schools. The Department of Education still supported them when the Broadcasting Authority took over. The Authority immediately set up its Schools Broadcasting Advisory Committee with the Director of Education, Chev. J. P. Vassallo O.B.E., acting as chairperson while the other members of this advisory committee acted themselves in a number of vetting panels – one for each subject taught in schools – to scrutinise each script before it was broadcast. Such members included not only headmasters, teachers and inspectors from the Department of Education but also members of the Committee of the Malta Union of Teachers, of the Private Schools Association, and representatives of His Grace the Archbishop.
For the scholastic year 1962/63 the school broadcasting programme consisted of 221 scheduled broadcasts made up of 39 Friday morning broadcasts, 25 programmes for stages and Class I; 49 programmes for Classes II–III; 61 programmes for Classes IV-V; and 47 programmes for Classes VI and school leavers. The School Broadcasting publication “The Young Listener” was “rendered more attractive … stitched, trimmed and printed on better quality paper … and every effort was being made to furnish listeners with the visual material required as background and complementary to the broadcasts”. An average of 23,000 copies of the magazine was sold per month and this represented 81% of the buying potential of the schools.
The day before the Ordinance setting up the Malta Broadcasting Authority was signed by the Governor, Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd. was given exclusive broadcasting rights for twenty-five years for cable radio, while, at the same time, a subsidiary was also set up, Malta Television Service Ltd., for the development and operation within fifteen months of a television service having broadcasting rights for the next twenty-five years. Malta Television Service Ltd. was also given the task of setting-up and operation within five years, with broadcasting rights for the following ten years, of wireless sound broadcasting.
Television sets were a very expensive luxury to the Maltese and radio was still the dominant form of entertainment well into the 1970’s.
The Authority’s contribution to television broadcasts concentrated on Party Political Broadcasts and Ministerial Broadcasts; and on two programmes “Ritratt” and “Youth Want to Know”. Although no data was found recording the actual number of viewers, the Authority reported at the end of March 1963 that this new service was listened to extensively in Malta and Gozo and the total number of TV licences issued increased drastically and was in excess of 19,000. By the end of 1964, there were 24,490 combined radio and television licences, 39,943 Rediffusion receivers and 8,488 radio licences while the number of wireless sets in use was estimated to be in the region of 24,000 radio sets – Government revenue from wireless licence fees rose from £21,847 for 1960/61 to £98,000 for 1964-65.
Following the election of 1962, the Legislative Assembly was composed of five political parties and the total available broadcasting time was distributed according to each party’s strength in the Assembly. Party Political Broadcasts recommenced on radio, while prolonged negotiations with the political parties preceded the new broadcasting scheme on television. The total broadcasting time for such broadcasts was shared between the two platforms of radio and television in the ratio of 5:2 respectively. Since the Malta Television Service was not as yet equipped with recording facilities, such broadcasts were first scripted and then read live. The Authority, on the other hand, emphasised that all TV broadcasts were to be rehearsed beforehand for timing purposes and that speakers were not to depart from the original script.
From a technical point of view, although sound broadcasting had been in operation since 1935, it is amply clear that local knowledge was lacking, quite often requiring cooperation from foreign broadcasters at a high cost. During the independence celebrations, there was close cooperation with the outside broadcast unit of RAI which made the broadcast of three major events of these celebrations possible: the handing over of the instrument of Independence; the State Opening of Parliament by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh; and the schoolchildren’s rally in the Independence Arena. The same arrangements were made for the Queen’s visit in November 1967 where extensive live coverage was given to many of the events of the Royal Visit.
The first Maltese drama written for television, was first screened on 22nd March 1964 and this was “an intricate and costly business and the amount of hard work and rehearsing which goes into even the simplest play is much greater than is generally realised” (B.A. Third Annual Report covering the year ended 31st March 1964). This was only possible after an “experienced BBC producer was brought over by MTV … for a three months’ instructional and training programme” after the completion of the New Studios in 1963 and the transfer from Rediffusion House requiring the “cessation of ‘live’ studio productions for a period of five weeks”.
On the other hand, the first full-Maltese contingent working in broadcasting was that of the Engineering Department, including the Chief Engineer of Rediffusion. In 1964 the Department laid a total of 22,000 yards of Rediffusion cable.
The first regulations on Public Service Broadcasts were first agreed with Rediffusion (Malta) Ltd. and MTV in 1964 in which the broadcasting of SOS and Police Messages was governed, including that of a number of slogans and short films urging the public to Keep the Beaches Clean, to Save Water, and to observe Traffic Regulations. Public Notices issued by the Government were part of an agreed list of daily broadcasts by Rediffusion.
Although much seems to have been attained during the first few years of the Broadcasting Authority, “the financial clauses in the Broadcasting Ordinance were meaningless, and the amount given to the Authority each year was quite inadequate. Several of the powers conferred on the Authority were negative in character while there were several other provision of the Ordinance which needed to be revised and which in their present form, and in view of the Authority, were either defective or not in keeping with the spirit of the Constitutional provisions on broadcasting” – (B.A. 1965-66).
The Authority was not only critical of the use of media services available but also verbosely critical of certain Government decisions. The Broadcasting (Amendment) Act 1966 introduced by Government deprived the Authority of its exclusivity in providing sound and television broadcasting services as these were extended to the Government or to “any person, body or authority under licence from or under arrangements with the Government”. This is still carried today as Government continues to license the public service broadcaster’s radio and television stations and has empowered the Authority to license digital radio (2007) and satellite broadcasts (2009).
Another article of this amendment to the Broadcasting Act also gave the power to Government to appoint a Chief Executive and to dictate the recruitment and conditions of employment of the Authority’s staff. It was only in 1999 that the Authority appointed for the first time in its history its own Chief Executive Officer. Even the appointment of the Authority itself used to be made for short periods of six months, then one year, and more recently for three years even though the Constitution allows such appointment to be made for up to five years.
The Authority’s finance, or lack of it, was problematic from the start. The Broadcasting Ordinance clearly stated that all licence fees paid by the public were to be channelled back into broadcasting – after the deduction by Government of £15,000 for the collection of these fees. But then, the Authority was also burdened by the contracts which it inherited on inception and had to spend a minimum of £35,000 on sound and television programming each year and to pay normal charge rates for programmes, broadcasting time and facilities to its own contractors. As reported in the Authority’s Annual Report for 1965-66 “revenue accruing … from licence fees and customs duty on radios and television sets continue to grow. Licence fees are increasing on average at the rate of £10,000 a year and the Authority estimated that revenue from this source will exceed £120,000 during 1966-67.”
At the time it was felt that the Authority should move closer to its main contractor at Gwardamangia. Various other government properties were sought and on the appointment of Mr. Joseph Grima on 2nd November 1971 as Chief Executive of the Broadcasting Authority, a post which had been left vacant since November 1968, and the appointment of a new Board on 31st March 1972 under the chairmanship of Chev. J. P. Vassallo O.B.E., the Authority held its meetings at its new offices at National Road, Blata l-Bajda.
This was the start of a nationalization period with the first involving directly the Broadcasting Authority. In May 1972 when Malta changed over to a decimal currency 520 spots of advertisements on sound and 284 spots on television were broadcast by the Authority on national services. Several half-hour slots were also shown on television for adult education programmes in connection with the decimal currency switch-over.
The next major development in broadcasting was the setting up of Radju Malta by the Broadcasting Authority through the exercise of such powers given to it by Section VI of the Broadcasting Ordinance, enabling the Authority to set up its own broadcasting services. Radio Malta, in fact, opened from temporary studios at Blata l-Bajda on 8th January 1973 with an average of four programme hours daily [10:00 am to noon and 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm and included two daily news bulletins; music; cultural programmes; a daily programme for women; a programme on Gozo; and weekend coverage of local and international sporting events]. It made use of the Deutsche Welle transmitter at Nigret. It has been firmly established that transmissions from Radio Malta were well received in Tripoli, Tunis and the whole of Sicily (B.A., 1973-73). Quadripartite talks between Libya, Italy, Tunisia and Malta were held which resulted with Libya donating transmitting equipment in November 1973 while Italy accepted to provide an antenna for Radio Malta.
Within six weeks from the arrival of the new equipment, Radio Malta transmissions were extended from four hours daily to twelve and, on 1st April 1974, the service was further expanded to seventeen hours of locally originated programmes daily.
Within a year from the transmissions of Radio Malta 1, use of the former diplomatic wireless station at Delimara was made and Radio Malta 2 started transmissions, also on the medium wave, broadcasting music and news on 99.7 MHz while Radio Malta International started broadcasting on 75.5 MHz.
By the end of 1973 it was estimated that 50% of households interviewed had at least one radio set (either in the house itself as a movable set operating on mains, or installed in a car or in the form of a portable transistor radio); 13% owned two sets; 4% owned three sets; and 1% owned four radio sets – 53,000 households in total. Rediffusion was present in 67% of households – 1% lower at 52,400 households in total; while only 9% of the population neither had a radio set or a Rediffusion set. A “Rediffusion Advert published in the Commercial Courier of 8.10.73 states that ‘Rediffusion is installed in 53,833 homes, hotels and restaurants in Malta’. Assuming that between 500 and 1000 of these are in hotels and restaurants it follows that the estimate obtained from the survey is within 1-2% of the true figure.”
From this survey, based on 1200 respondents it was also estimated that there were 76,000 ±4,000 radio sets in use in Malta and Gozo; while the Malta Trade Statistics published by the Central Office of Statistics lists the following table for Imports and Re-exports of radio for the period 1964 – 1973:
Following the general elections held on 12th to 14th June 1971, Government made clear from the start its policy on broadcasting. At the first public pronouncement at the Speech from the Throne, it was made clear that there was to be a point in time when broadcasting was to be transferred to the public sector. The first steps taken by Government was that of the appointment of a Chief Executive to the Broadcasting Authority – a post which had been left vacant for about three years as Government retained such power of appointment up till 1999, and dictated the recruitment and conditions of employment of the Authority’s staff.
Negotiations started between Government and the Rediffusion Group towards the end of 1973. However, by the end of 1974, negotiations broke down as no agreement had been reached between the General Workers Union and the management as to the terminal benefits that would be paid to the staff were the company to terminate its activities on Malta. This was the second industrial disagreement registered between the G.W.U. and the Rediffusion Group, the first being registered on 26th July 1968 with a one-day strike.
On 14th February 1975 a sit-in strike was ordered by the G.W.U. at the premises of the Rediffusion Group of Companies and for a few days wired sound and television broadcasting services remained off the air. On 19th February radio and television broadcasts were restarted by the workers themselves who were still on the sit-in strike. On 24th February 1975 a Bill legalizing recent past and future activities of the workers of Rediffusion and MTV was introduced by Government and an Emergency Council was made up of workers from the two companies.
By April 1975 it was decided that the Emergency Council would also take control of other important communication services. These would include the former Rediffusion, Malta Television and Radio Malta under the new name of Xandir Malta run under a new public corporation Telemalta which would also take control of the Telephone Department and the Cable and Wireless Department both of which had operated independently. Telemalta Corporation was to be run by a Chairman and Board Members appointed under the Minister for Development, with each section run by its own management. In the meantime, all the Authority’s staff members and all broadcasting equipment previously purchased or acquired were transferred to the Emergency Council.
By 31st July 1975 Xandir Malta officially became the broadcasting division of the Telemalta Corporation. All previous responsibilities for programme production were shed by the Authority and all manpower and technical assets were transferred to Xandir Malta including the Authority’s wireless Radju Malta and its three stations broadcasting on the medium wave and on VHF-FM. The Schools Broadcasting Unit was also seconded by the Authority to the new centralized control of Telemalta Corporation.
Under the new broadcasting regime, the Authority reverted to its primary role of acting as ‘watch-dog’ over the broadcasting media, with Telemalta Corporation as its new broadcasting contractor.
At the time it was considered that under these arrangements the Authority became more removed from the actual production process and in the consideration of complaints, it was not acting as judge, jury and defending counsel as was previously contended.
Another first was achieved in February 1976 when, for the first time Outside Television Broadcasting became operative through the acquisition of an outside broadcasting unit which was modified to take a third camera and two portable micro-wave links by Xandir Malta engineers. This was used for the first time for the live coverage of the proceedings of “Budget Day” together with recorded historical commentaries on the House of Representatives and the interiors of the President’s Palace. By the end of the year, this was used for two sports events (Horse Racing from Marsa and the Motorcycle Scramble at Mtarfa); for the Malta Song Festival; the Good Friday Procession from Mosta; and for the 1976 General Election where a temporary two-camera studio was set up at the MCAST while a third camera was placed directly in the counting area. Continual ‘live’ coverage extending throughout the night and ending late the following morning, with liaison between the main studio control at TVM, the MCAST studio, and the News Division ensured continuity.
Ooutside broadcasting coverage for that period April 1976 to March 1977 also included:
• the Carnival défilé and dancing from Misraħ il-Ħelsien;
• the Republic Day festivities outside City Gate;
• the swearing-in of the new President of the Republic at the Palace, Valletta;
• the Midnight Christmas Mass (which had to be ahandoned due to a power failure);
• the consecration ceremony of the new Archbishop at the Mdina Cathedral;
• the state visit of the President of the Libyan Arab Republic, Colonel Gaddafi;
• opera from the “Aurora Theatre” in Gozo;
• the appointment of Labour Party deputy leaders from Freedom Hall, Marsa;
• the Prime Minister’s address to the Nation, also from Marsa’;
• the Manoel Theatre Orchestra Christmas Concert from Valletta;
• the “Bir Miftuħ” orchestral concert from the Assembly Hall at the Univeristy, Tal-Qroqq; and
• the opening ceremony of the second TV Channel at TVM premises [Tivumalta Ltd.].
Another first was achieved on 13th October 1977 – the direct radio transmission of a parliamentary session in which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition took part. And on 6th November 1978 Parliament again exercised its prerogative – to allow the television cameras within the precincts of the House of Parliament for a direct transmission of a debate on Malta’s foreign policy. This was followed on two other occasions – the 27th and 28th January 1979 – when Parliament was recorded and a deferred transmission took place on radio and Cable radio only in connection with the Budget involving the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
In January 1978 the English Service on Cable Radio Two was withdrawn and was replaced by programmes broadcast by the wireless station, Radio Malta One. By January 1975 the total daily listenership of both Radio and Cable Radio registered 282,000 listeners, representing more than two-thirds of the total population (aged 9 years and over) with Radio Malta One registering 155,000 while Cable Radio One registered 123,000 listeners. In 1979, Radio Malta Two, (the all music service) was taken off the air, while on 14th December 1979, Radio Malta International was moved to the VHF/FM band. This international service was discontinued as it did not have sufficient adequate power to carry transmission to the Italian mainland and was replaced by twelve continuous hours of daily broadcasts from 08:00am to 20:00 in English for the ever increasing tourist population in hotels, apartments and other holiday complexes.
In addition, for the first time, Television Malta hosted Mons. G. Mercieca, Archbishop of Malta and Mons. N. Cauchi, Bishop of Gozo to deliver the religious and pastoral television talks for the Holy Week of 1979.
Although the contractual relationship that existed between the Broadcasting Authority and the Rediffusion were also operative with the Telemalta Corporation (when the latter became responsible through its broadcasting division, Xandir Malta) the same cannot be said for those stations which operated under direct licence from the Government. At the start of 1979 these included the Central Mediterranean Relay Station; the British Forces Broadcasting Service; the Deutsche Welle Relay Station; TiveMalta Ltd.; the Voice of Friendship and Solidarity (later Voice of the Mediterranean operating under joint management provided by the Maltese and Libyan Governments); and Radio Mediterranean (a joint venture between the Maltese and Algerian Governments) – all these were not contracted by the Broadcasting Authority.
The year 1981 started with the appointment of Mr. Francis S Carbone as Chief Executive of the Authority on 21st January, a post which had been left vacant for some years, while Mr. Antoine Ellul, the Authority’s Secretary, was detailed for other duties with the public service.
Undoubtedly, two major events attracted great public interest: the introduction of colour television service that was inaugurated on 8th July 1981; and the start of radio broadcasts (Radiomaster) by the Nationalist Party from Sicily.
In October 1983, Cable Radio 2 and Radio Malta were temporarily amalgamated.
For the next three years every effort was made for a negotiated settlement of the existing crisis in broadcasting. The Nationalist Party lifted its 23-month boycott of products advertised on the broadcasting media on the very first day of 1984. This move was reciprocated by the General Workers’ Union lifting its directives ordering the workers of Xandir Malta to boycott Nationalist Party’s activities and, towards the end of the year, removing their boycott against the Nationalist MP, Dr Josie Muscat, as a further sign of goodwill.
Cable Radio, which had been operating in Malta for 53 years, broadcast its last programme before closing down on 31st January 1989 while, during the same month, a public call for proposals was issued to develop a Cable Television Service for the Maltese Islands.
In September 1990 a White Paper was issued setting out Government’s proposals for establishing pluralism in broadcasting through the development of new radio services at national and community levels, the introduction of a cable television service, and providing a framework for rapidly developing technologies.
1991 – 1999
The new Broadcasting Bill was published on 8 March 1991 and after 22 parliamentary sessions was enacted and brought into effect on 1st June 1991.
In April 1991 Government offered and subsequently issued radio licences to the Nationalist Party, the Malta Labour Party, and the Catholic Church in terms of the Wireless Telegraphy Ordinance; these were valid for a period expiring on 31st December 1992.
On 3rd June 1991, the Government signed an agreement with Melita Cable Television Ltd. granting the company a 15-year franchise to install and operate a cable television service comprising of a number of channels received via terrestrial and satellite stations, while the Broadcasting Authority issued a call for applications for eight-year licences to operate nationwide radio stations on that same day.
Construction of the cable system began in the Autumn of 1991 while work for the connectivity for Gozo started in 1995. By 1st January 1996 the total number of households with a cable facility stood at 145,371, of which 51,500 were actually connected to the cable service – a penetration rate of 35%.
The Labour Party radio station Super One Radio was the first on air with regular 24/7 transmissions in mid-August 1991; the station owned by the Nationalist Party, Radio 101, was inaugurated in September 1991; while the Church station, RTK, was inaugurated on 14th March 1992.
By 7th November 1991 the Broadcasting Authority had awarded three licences, out of five applications received, to Island Sound (which commenced transmission on 6th March 1992), Radio One Live, and Bay Radio (commencing transmission on 10th March 1992). Smash Radio was the last station licensed by the Authority for its first issue of frequencies.
At the end of the year the Authority also launched four-year community radio services that were to broadcast with a 2.5 Km radius from location. The first two such community radio stations were Radju Rona which started transmitting on 15th April 1993 from Naxxar; and Radju għall-Providenza which operated between 20th and 25th December 1993 from Siggiewi with the aim of broadcasting music pledges to raise funds for the residents of the Dar tal-Providenza. Radio Rona which was embarked upon with much enthusiasm closed down after two months; however the efforts of Radju għall-Providenza and Radju għar-Restawr (licensed the following year for the restoration of part of the façade of the Mosta Church) were both quite satisfied with the results of their efforts.
In June 1992 the Authority advertised the availability of the remaining two unallocated frequencies for nationwide radio services in the VHF/FM band. Three applications were received, setting up the first actual exercise in competitive licensing owing to the limited number of radio frequencies available. Radio Calypso was licensed first as it originated from Gozo and promised to present the Gozitan dimension at a national level. There was heavy contention for the last remaining licence.
An interesting development took place during 1993, culminating in the issue of a radio licence by the Authority to UNIMAS Ltd. Following exhaustive negotiations between the Authority and the two applicants (the University of Malta and the Social Action Movement), agreement was reached on the setting up of a holding company (UNIMAS Ltd.) which would be allocated a licence to operate a joint programme service on the FM frequency. Transmissions from the University Radio started in August 1994 while in October 1994 Radju MAS commenced regular transmissions.
In February 1997 two additional VHF-FM frequencies were assigned by Government for use by PBS Ltd and by Alternattiva Demokratika. FM Bronja, the third radio service run by the public service broadcaster, was licensed by the Authority by the end of the year. Alternattive Demokratika, on the other hand, had to give up its community radio licence and a broadcast licence was issued on 6th May 1998 for Capital Radio.
The new broadcasting legislation also contemplated a new television-broadcasting scenario for the public service provider. A new company was set up on 27th September 1991 and all operations of the former Xandir Malta were transferred to the new service TVM operated by the state owned company Public Broadcasting Services Ltd. This included also the already on-air radio stations Radio Malta 1 on 999 MW and Radio Malta 2 on 93.7 FM.
In June 1993, Parliament amended section 10(5) of the Broadcasting Act. The original version limited one broadcasting service to one broadcasting licensee requiring, in effect, that a radio licensee could not obtain a television licence without first relinquishing control over the company which owned the radio service. The amendment allowed an organisation, person, or company to be editorially responsible for not more than one radio service and not more than one television service. On 22nd February 1993 Government assigned to the Authority the UHF channels 21 and 29 for which the Authority had already received an application from the Malta Labour Party to cover also television broadcasts.
The two assigned channels were subject to varying degrees of interference from the Italian stations Canale 5 and TVR Sicilia and representations had to be made by Government with the Italian authorities to clear the two television channels which had been internationally assigned to Malta by the Stockholm Convention. On 20th August 1993, the Malta Labour Party commenced unauthorized television test transmissions on UHF channel 43 while a licence was issued to Super One Television on 25th February 1994 to operate on channel 29, using the transmitter power of 100 watts at the Authority’s antenna at Għargħur and a system of repeaters to achieve nationwide coverage. Super One Television also started using the cable system during the last quarter of 1994.
A second television broadcasting licence was issued to Smash Communications Ltd. on 27th October 1994, authorising the company to operate Smash TV on the cable television system. It commenced broadcasts on 19th November 1994. During the last quarter of 1994 another channel Max Plus was introduced by the Cable Operator.
Following the Authority’s decision to build offices and studios suitable for its requirements, a rather lengthy process ensued for the selection and purchase of an appropriate site as well as for the preparation and approval of purpose-built facilities. In March 1994 construction work on a new office building started at Mile End Road, Hamrun, and by September 1995 the Authority moved into its newly built office premises. By that time a television studio of 100 square meters, located mainly underground, was in its final stages of completion for the Authority’s community television station (Channel 12), which became fully operational on 29th September 1996 via the cable television service under the direct control of the Broadcasting Authority.
Soon after its inauguration, Channel 12 concentrated on placing its human and technical resources at the disposal of those organisations with a commitment towards social and cultural progress where Local Councils and philanthropic societies featured prominently in the station’s programme schedules. In its brief existence, in fact, the Outside Broadcasting Unit that was donated by Melita Cable Ltd. as part of its 15-year franchise licence obligations produced 18.6% (337 hours) of all Channel 12’s programmes.
In 1997, the reduction in the Authority’s budget in line with the Government’s policy of rationalizing public broadcasting resources meant that the Authority could no longer continue to operate the Community Channel. As the Authority wanted to ensure that the broadcasting resources it owned would remain in the public domain, discussions with PBS Ltd. started immediately following discussions in March with the Prime Minister on Government’s rationalization plans for the public broadcasting sector. When PBS Ltd. signified their disinterest in the package offered, the Authority concluded an agreement with Melita Cable Television Ltd. that fulfilled all the criteria sought by the Authority. However, Melita Cable later pulled out after the Prime Minister described the deal reached as not in the public interest. Subsequently PBS submitted an offer that was closely akin to the one they had previously rejected and negotiations between the Authority and the national broadcasting station were successfully concluded.
Channel 12, the community channel on cable television which began its activity under the direct control of the Broadcasting Authority on 29th September 1996, was hived off to the Public Broadcasting Services Ltd. on 16th January 1998.
In July 1997, Government assigned four UHF television channels to the Authority for use by licensed private nationwide broadcasters. After due consideration test transmissions were authorized on UHF Channel 50 that was allocated to the Nationalist Party – a broadcasting licence was issued on 20th March 1998 to Net TV. Channel 42 was allocated to Smash Communications Ltd. which was already operating a television service on cable.
In August 1999 Max Media Entertainment Ltd. made a formal application for a new TV service Max Plus. The station was to broadcast only on the cable network and was allocated the use of channel 18 on this service. Also that same month a formal application was made by a newly set up company, http://www.travel, for a broadcasting licence for overseas digital satellite television and digital interactive HTML contents broadcasting service. The application was referred to the Ministry for Transport and Communications and the Authority was later informed that the station had been granted permission to start test transmissions.
On 1st January 1999 the Broadcasting Authority appointed for the first time in its history its own Chief Executive Officer.
From 2000 till the present
In view of the envisaged development in digital technology, the migration from analogue to digital radio and high definition broadcasting, new media platforms, and satellite broadcasting licensing, to name just a few, during 2006 the Authority compiled its first Business Plan to cover the period 2007-2009 and approved a Vision Statement and a Mission Statement.
During this year, the Authority and the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) set up a Task Force on Community Radio Stations to develop a policy for the assignment of spectrum and coverage areas as well as the identification of the necessary amendment to the Broadcasting Act, the Electronic Communications (Regulation) Act, and the Electronic Communications Networks and Services Regulations. During the same year, the Authority and the MCA formulated their advice to Government on the evolution of digital terrestrial television in view of the technical developments which had taken place and in so far as “must carry and general interest objective” are concerned.
On 11th July 2008 the first satellite broadcasting licence was issued by the Authority to BuzzTV Ltd. At the time only the Minister responsible for communications was empowered to issue such a licence unless he delegated such a function to the Broadcasting Authority. Legal Notice 175 of 2008 was issued by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications empowering the Broadcasting Authority to issue on behalf of Government a licence to this company to broadcast a television service, the uplink being in Slovenia. Essentially a generalist station, Buzz TV went off the air in July 2009, the owners citing technical difficulties and a change in uplink together with a re-branding exercise for the lack of broadcasts. The licence for this station was revoked by the Authority on 7th December 2009.
In July 2009 the Broadcasting Act was amended in order to provide a more detailed licensing regime for the regulation of satellite radio and television services. And in 2010, for the first time, the Authority issued its first licence for satellite transmissions to a Belgian based company Icon Europe for a number of thematic satellite television stations (sixteen channels including one Teleshopping Channel) targeting the Turkish speaking community in Central Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.
Test transmission on the first digital radio platform started on 1st July 2008 and on 1st October the same year the Authority issued a broadcasting licence for four years to DigiB Networks Ltd which had already been licensed by the M.C.A. with regard to spectrum frequency allocation. A number of foreign radio channels started being rebroadcast on this platform, together with the simulcasting of nearly all the locally originating FM radio stations. And by the end of the year, the first community radio station, Christian Light Radio, was also licensed by the Authority to simulcast on this DAB+ platform.
On February 2009 a Policy and Strategy Document for Digital Broadcasting that meets General Interest Objectives was launched by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications in collaboration with the Broadcasting Authority and the Malta Communications Authority highlighting the changes expected for digital switchover from analogue terrestrial to digital broadcasting. A new digital platform for free-to-air stations was set up and a multiplex licence was issued to the state broadcaster, i.e. PBS Ltd. as the operator of this digital platform which was to carry up to six stations, including TVM and Education 22 which are considered to be de facto general interest objective stations. On 21st June 2011, Legal Notice 240 of 2011 was published in the Government Gazzette, setting out the criteria to be adopted in the selection of television services that fulfill general interest objective criteria to broadcast on the digital free-to-air platform.
The analogue signal was switched off on 31st October 2011.
On Friday 28 December 2012 PBS opened their new Creativity Hub in G’Mangia as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. The Hub was the first part in a series of projects aimed to launch National Television and Radio into the next 50 years of transmissions through the use of the latest cutting edge technology.
The project lies in what was Rediffusion House, a MEPA protected and scheduled building due to it architectural importance. C&C were entrusted and were responsible for the design of the building engineering services which besides catering for the requirements of both the occupants and TV / Radio stations with their associated technical prerequisites, had to respect the integrity of the building itself. The brief included the installation of the latest technology in digital broadcasting and the services had to cater for futuristic technologies.
An experiment that worked on this project was the use of a number of contractors, some being competitors of each other to work together towards a common goal, to complete this project on time and to the high standards set by the Client.
This was not just another project done by C&C as designing services for radio and television studios is a rare and unique opportunity especially when this is done for the number one radio and TV station on the Island. This included for the design of special acoustics for the services and especially the airconditioning systems while keeping them effective and with the lowest cost possible.
Another area where the technology was the latest and most sophisticated was with the lighting and controls. Extensive use was made of LED’s and special control and dimming equipment that could be set and preset for each stage setup. Apart from this the aesthetics were of prime importance with a lot of effort afforded to the high level of finishes.
The building also has a building management system that makes it one of the most modern and intelligent buildings in Malta.
The designs incorporated a number of energy saving measures including the control of lighting and air conditioning with presence detectors, dimmable lighting for public spaces, rain water harvesting for use in irrigation and WC flushing, fresh air installations, access control employing NFC technology, comprehensive fire fighting systems including inert gas suppression for rack rooms and robotic archives and a building management system to control the various systems. Accessibility was also improved by the installation of lifts linking all the floors of the building.
National Radio Stations in Malta
|88.7||“Vibe FM”||Urban Contemporary|
|89.7||“Bay Radio”||Contemporary Hit Radio|
|92.7||“One Radio”||Political Programming|
|93.7||“Radio Malta”||Classic Hits|
|101.0||“Radio 101”||Political Programming|
|102.3||“Radju Marija”||Catholic Religious|
|103.7||“Campus FM”||International Programming|
|104.6||“Smash Radio”||Adult Contemporary|
Public National TV Channels in Malta
TVM2 (formerly ED22)
ITV Shopping Channel
f Living (formerly Favourite Channel)
Xejk (formerly Calypso Music TV)
MTV Music Malta