This is a Chapter of the Study “How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on migration?” carried out and prepared by the Ethical Journalism Network and commissioned in the framework of EUROMED Migration IV – a project, financed by the European Union and implemented by ICMPD. © European Union, 2017.
The Challenge of Normalising the Media’s Migrant Crisis Machine
On the surface, Malta has a vibrant media landscape. The Mediterranean archipelago currently hosts three national television stations, and a small commercial outlet, more than ten radio stations, 12 newspapers – four of which are dailies – and about eight online news portals. This is despite the fact that in terms of population, Malta is equivalent in size to Manchester. This disproportionate diversity is not the result of the island’s extraordinary productivity but rather has to do with the fact that the local industry does not obey market principles and remains dominated by the country’s political institutions; the main political blocks, the incumbent Labour Party (Social Democratic) and the Nationalist Party (Christian Democrat), the Catholic Church, and Malta’s largest union, the General Workers Union (GWU).
This dynamic effectively stifles prospects for privately-owned media, especially in the broadcasting sector, and consolidates the dominance of these institutions over the public sphere, exacerbating the challenges of operating in a micro-economy. On top of this artificial race for market share, Maltese newsrooms have to meet the particular exigencies of covering a city state. News outlets perform a hybrid function, dealing with international, national and hyper-local news simultaneously.
A day’s typical news agenda may have a list of political, economic, court and crime stories, something between what you might see in a European national newspaper (but not quite at the level of a regional outfit); a focus on a pressing development in neighbouring North Africa, and a raging dispute over garbage collection arrangements in a village of 1,000 people.
This context is vital to understanding news coverage of migration in Malta. The fragmentation of the market means all editorial departments are under-resourced, most of them severely. At the time of writing, the country’s largest newsrooms would not have more than four to five writers on any given shift. As a result, hardly any media is really able to meet the news demands outlined above, let alone invest in the immersive journalism needed for reporting on large scale, complex phenomena such as mass irregular migration.