Media Landscapes


Written by Joseph Borg


The Mediterranean Islands of Malta with a surface area of 316 km. sq. and a population of just over 400,000 are one of the smallest but most densely populated countries. The country is made of the main island, Malta and a secondary island, Gozo. It became a member of the European Union on May 1, 2004 and adopted the Euro as official currency on January 1, 2008. The two political parties represented in Parliament are the Partit Nazzjonalista (currently in Government and member of the European People’s Party) and the Partit Laburista (member of the European Socialist Party). Two small parties are Alternattiva Demokratika (member of the European Green Party) and Azzjoni Nazzjonali, a right wing party.

The main religion of Malta is Catholicism.

Malta’s economy is dependent on tourism and the IT industries with the financial services sector increasing in its importance. While the national language is Maltese, the official languages are English and Maltese. The national language is a synthesis of the Semitic and romance families of languages.

Book and press censorship was abolished in 1839. This was followed by a rapid increase in the number of papers published in English, Italian and later Maltese (Frendo, 1994). This reflected the political scenario divided between the pro-Italian and the pro-British movements. The political parties played an important part in the development of the print media. They still do as they dominate the newspaper sector published in Maltese. This development is in line with the development of media systems in the north of the Mediterranean. Hallin and Mancini (2004) propose that there is a Mediterranean Model which they also call the Polarized Pluralistic model, as the mass media were at the centre of the political struggles that characterised the development of these countries. As a consequence the media in these Mediterranean countries were regarded as a valuable tool towards political mobilisation and ideological expression (Hallin and Mancini, 2004). Advocacy journalism was stronger than either commercial or normative journalism; the development of commercial media markets was relatively weak, and it was difficult for the media to develop as autonomous institutions.

Newspapers and books could not be considered to be mass media as literacy was only limited to the elite. In was only in the 1930s that the Maltese alphabet and orthography were standardised, while compulsory education was introduced in the 1940s. These innovations provided the basic infrastructure needed for the print media to become a mass medium.

Today there are four dailies and 11 weeklies published in Malta. Two dailies and five weeklies are published in English; the rest are published in Maltese. All are morning papers.  This high number of daily or weekly newspapers means that there is one paper for every 28,000 people. The high number of papers is not accompanied by a high number of readers. Newspapers  are read daily by only 27 percent (Media Warehouse, October 2008).

Malta’s bilingual culture is evidenced by the fact that half the newspapers are published in English and the other half in Maltese. The most widely read and financially strongest newspapers are by far The Times and The Sunday Times. Hailing from the 20s and the 30s respectively, these newspapers have a political origin, since they were published by the now defunct Progressive Constitutional Party. Today these papers are owned and managed by the Strickland Foundation. The purely commercial ethos usually characteristic of commercial companies is not yet the dominant ethos of the group though it is rapidly creeping in.

The 90s brought a new spate of commercially owned newspapers, and a new trend in newspaper ownership. The People and The People on Sunday were short-lived experiments in tabloid journalism.

This was followed by The Malta Independent on Sunday which was the first attempt made by Standard Publications Ltd in 1992 to break the stranglehold of The Times group. The weekly’s positive results encouraged the owners to venture into the publication of a daily - The Malta Independent - and a mid-week business newspaper called The Malta Business Weekly. The Malta Independent on Sunday is the most successful product of Standard Publications Ltd while its daily version reaches half the readers of the Sunday version. The group did not make the desired in-roads in the readership and advertising market of the papers published by the Allied Newspapers Ltd.

Malta’s tabloids are published by Media Today. The Sunday English tabloid Malta Today published since 1999 and the Maltese tabloid, Illum have the smallest circulation registered by the Sunday papers. A very small circulation is also registered by the Wednesday edition of Malta Today and the niche mid-weekly The Malta Financial and Business Times.

The short lifespan of The People and the relatively poor ratings of the newspapers of Media Today lend credence to the observation of Hallin and Mancini (2004) that tabloid or sensationalist popular newspapers have never really developed in the southern European region.

The Sunday newspaper It Torca (The Torch) and the daily L'Orizzont (The Horison) published by the largest trade union, the General Workers Union, are the most read among the papers in Maltese language. The Partit Laburista publishes a Sunday paper, KullHadd as its official bulletin. The Partit Nazzjonalista has published the daily In Nazzjon (The Nation) and the Sunday, Il Mument (The Moment) since the beginning of the 1970s. All these papers are very strong on editorialising even when they are reporting news. Newspapers are definitively losing out to radio and television (and radio is losing to television) as preferred source of news. 

Malta’s largest institution, the Catholic Church, has the weakest present in the newspaper industry with one weekly Lehen is Sewwa (The Voice of Truth), enjoying a limited circulation.

A large number of magazines treating all sorts of subjects is published. The presence of commercial interests and – to a lesser extent – civil society is very strong in this sector. Several magazines are given out freely together with newspapers. These are generally chic magazines printed in full colour and on glossy art paper published either by the newspapers themselves for commercial interests. These magazines and several others which are distributed freely door to door make their money by selling advertising space.

Advertising, sales and subsidies are the three main methods of financing newspapers and magazines. However, most of the papers and magazines tied to institutions are subsidised by the same institutions, or depend on advertising or subsidies from their owners. The figures accruing from advertising are not officially published. Sources very close to the industry informed the author that during 2006 it is estimated that 10.56 million euro (9.89 million in 2002) were spent on newspaper advertising while just under 5 million eurp (almost 4 million in 2002) were spent on magazine advertising. Fifty percent of the total national advertising budget is spent on the print media while 39 percent is spent on the broadcast media (Borg, 2009).

Radio broadcasting in the form of pay-cable radio was introduced in 1935 and was run by the British-owned commercial company, Rediffusion Ltd. The company held the monopoly of the medium until the beginning of the 1970s when the Broadcasting Authority, for some time, set up a number of terrestrial radio stations. In 1975, broadcasting was nationalised and Xandir Malta became the state broadcaster.

In 1991, radio pluralism was introduced. Today there are 13 stations broadcasting on a national FM frequency and 26 community stations besides others on the digital platform. The broadcasting scene in Malta is characterised by the large presence of the state, the political parties and the Church. These institutions own radio and/or television stations.

Super One Radio (audience 16 percent) – owned by the Partit Laburista, presently in opposition - has consistently been the station with the largest following, however from time to time its position is challenged by Bay Radio (currently the most popular station with an audience of 20 percent) (Broadcasting Authority, 2009).  Radio 101, run by the Partit Nazzjonalista has decreased its audience (audience 4.9 percent) in recent years.  Both political stations are all-format stations that give a lot of importance to political discussions. Political parties use their radio stations as their standard-bearers (Borg, 2003). 

RTK, the radio station owned by the Catholic Church, is an all-format station and generally occupies the fourth position (audience 8.5 percent). Radju Marija, a purely religious station increased its audience (audience 7.8 percent) probably at the expense of RTK.  The Catholic presence is buttressed by a number of community radio stations, especially in the sister island of Gozo. This presence is more a sign of the competing theological models present in the church than a sign of unity as two completely different theological models are in operation and in competition among different Catholic stations (Borg, 2009).

The public broadcaster is present through three stations. Radju Malta (audience 6.9 percent), the all-format station with a large percentage of public service programmes, has lost rating after peaking at the second position around 2004. Magic FM  (audience 6.3 percent) is a non-stop music station with next to no public service programmes. Radju Parlament (audience 1.2 percent) transmits parliamentary sittings and specialises on Maltese music in the weekend.

The University runs the niche station, Campus FM (audience 0.8 percent). It gives importance to cultural and high quality programming; re-broadcasts news and current affairs programmes from the BBC World Service and classical music from Classic FM.

Most of the purely commercial radio stations are much stronger on music than talk programmes. Bay Radio which targets youths has consistently registered a large following and was, on a number of occasions, the station with the largest audience.. Calypso targets an older age group than Bay and often registers the third largest radio audience (audience 10.7 percent). The other music stations, Vibe FM, Smash Radio and Capital Radio, currently register an audience of approximately four per cent for each station.

Malta Television, run by Rediffusion, was inaugurated in September 1962; five years after the Maltese started receiving television signals from Italy. This happened in early 1957 when RAI set up a booster on Mount Camarata in Sicily to strengthen its signal there. Since then the Maltese became avid followers of different Italian channels. About 15 percent of viewers still watch the Mediaset stations and 7 percent watch the RAI stations (Broadcasting Authority, 2009) which can be accessed either terrestrially or through cable which was introduced in 1992 and is now subscribed to by around 80 percent of households.

A very important milestone in the development for the TV industry and it usage was the emending of the Broadcasting Act in 1993 to introduce TV pluralism. Today there are eight TV stations in Malta. The Labour owned Super One TV (now One TV) went on air in 1994 and many believe that this contributed to the MLP’s (now Partit Laburista) victory in the 1996 election. The Nationalist TV station – Net TV - started its broadcasts just in time for the 1998 elections which the party won.

The TV scene is an example of market failure, as purely commercial TV stations never registered large audiences. Between October 2008 and September 2009, the public broadcaster and the politically owned stations – TVM, One TV, Net TV and E22 gathered 53 percent of viewers while the private commercial stations – Smash TV, Favourite TV (start of broadcasts January 2009), Calypso (start of broadcast 10 May 2009) and ITV - attracted 3 percent of the market (Broadcasting Authority, 2009).

The public service station TVM managed to remain the station with the largest audience. In the period under review, it registered one third of viewers compared to the 14.7 percent of One TV and the 5.6 percent of Net TV (Broadcasting Authority, 2009. Its news and discussion programmes contribute to this popularity as they are largely perceived to be balanced. It also has better programming as many independent producers prefer to be associated with the public service station than with one of the political stations.

All TV stations, including the public service station, carry advertising. The political stations are subsidised by the political parties which own them, while the public service station receives a contribution of around 1.2 million euro to subsidise the programmes of extended public service obligation.

Malta has a developed service film industry but hardly any film producing industry. The Film Commissioner is mainly responsible to market the local facilities, locations, talent, expertise and financial incentives available in an attempt to attract foreign companies to shoot on the island. A number of blockbusters e.g. The Gladiator have been shot here and several world-renowned producers e.g. Spielberg chose local facilities.

The Malta Film Fund funded by the Malta Government and the EU has been launched by the government. The Fund has been set up to encourage the creation of quality Maltese short films and documentaries, and to support Maltese film-making talent that demonstrates long-term potential. The independent producers are mainly concerned with the production of TV programmes. Though it is quite rare that Maltese films are produced for the local cinema consumption, when this happens they tend to become very popular.

Malta has a good number of Cinema Theatres spread across the island. The main two complexes are the Eden Cinemas in Paceville, St.Julians and the Empire Cinema Complex in Bugibba. The Eden Cinemas' Mega complex now comprises 17 screens. Cinema 16 has one of the largest screens in Europe the THX certified sound system and Dolby Digital-Surround EX. The Empire Cinema Complex houses seven screens.

The telecommunications sector was liberalised at the beginning of the 2000s. Three companies had different monopolies. The government owned Maltacom PLC (changed name to GO after its privatisation) had a monopoly on fixed telephone lines, data lines and overseas lines. Vodafone PLC had a monopoly on mobile telephony. Melita Cable had a monopoly on the distribution of cable TV.

Subsequent to liberalisation, GO provides fixed and mobile telephony, a digital terrestrial TV platform and Internet services. Melita Cable is also a quadruple play operator, however its TV services – both analogue and digital – are provided through cable. Vodafone provides mobile and Internet services. Mobile telephony is also being provided by Redtouch, owned by the Partit Laburista and will soon be provided by the Partit Nazzjonalista.

As an immediate effect, prices went down while use of mobile telephony and Internet subscriptions went up. The number of subscribers to mobile telephony shot from 43,000 in March 2000 to 418,000 in September 2009. There are more mobile subscriptions than people as a significant number have more than one subscription. Besides there are also more mobile subscriptions than fixed lines (NSO Press Release 217/2009).

SMS traffic is rapidly increasing: in 2000, just 4,000 SMSs were sent while almost 32 million were sent during the third quarter of 2009 ((NSO PR 217/2009).

Internet services have expanded dramatically. While half of houses had an Internet connection in 2003, their number rose to 76 percent in 2009. Almost all of them have a broadband connection and just over 95 percent of broadband subscribers had a connection speed of more than or equal to 2Mbps (NSO Press Release 217/2009).

There is an age and a gender difference regarding the use of the Internet. Daily or almost daily use by those between 16 and 24 years of age is very high – 81 percent - , in fact, higher than the EU average of 73 percent (Eurostat News release 176/2009). The same level of usage is made by 45 percent of those between 16 and 74 year of age, a bit lower than the EU average of 48 percent. These figures show that the Internet is used more than newspaper, which are read daily by only 27 percent and radio, which is daily listened to by 40 percent (The Media Warehouse, 2008).

There is also a gender difference in Internet use. While 39 percent of males have bought or ordered goods or services over the Internet, only 29 percent of females did the same. The EU average of 37 percent for this activity is slightly higher than the Maltese average of 34 percent (Eurostat News release 176/2009). The same study shows that 51 percent use the Internet for sending emails (EU average 57 percent), 32 percent use the Internet for reading newspapers on line (EU average 31 percent), 29 percent use it for downloading/listening to/watching music and/or films  (EU average 28 percent), 34 percent for seeking information with the purpose of learning (EU average 31 percent) and 10 percent for returning filled-in forms to public authorities (EU average 31percent). Malta ranks second among EU member states for the number of e-government services available to its citizens. Its score of 95 percent ranks very well when compared with the EU average of 59 percent.

There are 13 Internet service providers, eleven of which are commercial ones (Retrieved Dec 11, 2009 from

While broadcasting pluralism enabled the Maltese to transfer their village square gossip to the national forum, ICTs and the new media, enable the same process potentially on a worldwide scale with the groups of one’s choice at the time of one’s choice (Borg 2009).

The introduction of digital technology is enabling the regulators, i.e. the Broadcasting Authority and the Malta Communications Authority, to grant licences to existing applicants for TV and radio stations. The transition to digital TV, which will be finalised by December 2010, is happening rapidly. Access increased from 1.6 percent of households in 2006 to 58 percent by September 2009 (Broadcasting Authority, 2009).

Six TV channels will be available for free on a platform reserved for general interest stations, and which will be run by PBS Ltd. This will ascertain that a number of TV stations will be available to everyone without the need to be subscribed to any commercial platform.

Though there is no cut-off date for digital radio transmission, a digital radio platform operated by Digi-b Network has been in use since mid-2008. Besides FM stations transmitting on a national frequency, the platform carries many foreign stations and a number of new stations originating from Malta. Uptake of the service is 3.6 percent of radio listeners (Broadcasting Authority, 2009).

Most established newspapers and broadcasting organisations have their own websites; and purely web-based news organisations have been set up. The two most visited local websites are run by news organisations. These are, a completely web-based news portal owned by Go with 38.6 percent of users an, owned by The Times group, with 25.4 percent of users (Media Warehouse, 2008). The Catholic Church has recently stopped the print version of its weekly paper, Il Gensillum, and is now publishing it only a digital version. The Partit Laburista also has a web-based newspaper and the Partit Nazzjonalista has a new portal called

There are no Maltese news agencies. For the coverage of local news the media outlets depend on their own resources while for the coverage of international news, the media depend on foreign news agencies.

There are no specialised trade unions representing journalists, producers or other media personnel. In several cases, these media workers form part of other established trade unions representing different categories of workers.

The commercial sector has failed to own popular TV stations. However, through the productions of the commercial independent producers it nevertheless succeeded in becoming the cornerstone of the television industry. As a result of the National Broadcasting Policy (2004) most of TVM’s programmes are outsourced to these independent producers. Even the other stations outsource most of their programmes both because they are not equipped enough to produce many programmes and because they get a financial benefit by selling production airtime to the independent producers which are now an important feature of Malta’s media industry.

Article 41 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of information, which includes the freedom to hold opinions, to receive ideas, and information, and to communicate ideas and information without interference. The same article states that anyone “who is resident in Malta may edit or print a newspaper or journal published daily or periodically” (Constitution of Malta Retrieved April 10, 2007, PDF). There is no need for a licence to start publishing a newspaper and practically anyone over eighteen years of age can register with the Press Registrar and assume the role of editor.

The main law covering the print media is the Press Act (Retrieved November 10, 2009, PDF). The law, among other things, outlines press offences and journalistic rights. Among the offences, one finds incitement, hate language, maliciously spreading of false news, which is likely to create a commotion, and libel. Libel in Malta is still a criminal besides a civil offence. The law guarantees the right of reply to anyone who feels aggrieved.

Among the journalistic rights listed, one finds the principle of qualified privilege, the journalists’ right to protect their sources and the government’s legal obligation to make more information available. Government is also prohibited from boycotting any newspaper or broadcasting organisation.

The Broadcasting Act and a number of legal notices and guidelines of the Broadcasting Authority provide the basis of the legal framework covering the broadcasting media. Most of the ancillary legislation covering the broadcasting arena covers some area of selling. These are the Distance Selling Regulations, 2001; Public Lotto Ordinance; Tobacco (Smoking Control) Act; the Copyright Act and the Comparative Advertising.

The two main laws governing the sector of the telecommunications and the online media connected with it are the Electronic Communications (Regulation) Act and the Malta Communications Authority Act.

The Electronic Communications (Regulation) Act deals, inter alia, with the role of the regulator, the obligations of authorised providers and the protection of users. It regulates the networks and services but not the content that is provided through them.

The Broadcasting Authority together with either the Prime Minister or the Minister for Culture can enact subsidiary legislation (regulations and codes) which the stations are obliged to follow in different sectors of their programming. The legal notices and Authority’s guidelines cover the news, current affairs, phone-in programmes, advertising, the coverage of tragedies, the portrayal of people with disability, the promotion of racial equality and the transmission of major events (Broadcasting Authority, 2007. Retrieved May 10, 2009 from). The Authority can warn or fine the stations or programmes that transgress.

The Editorial Board of PBS was set up in 2004 to enhance the editorial independence of the public service station. The National Broadcasting Policy reaffirmed the government’s commitment to make public service broadcasting the best in the country, and to set up an Editorial Board alongside the Board of Directors, responsible for the news policy and the content of the schedules of the stations. The Policy created greater transparency and accountability in the choice of programmes, setting out a system of public tender following the publication of a Programme Statement of Intent (National Broadcasting Policy, 2004).

There are two self-regulation entities: the Malta Institute of Journalists and the Committee of Journalists. The Institute was set up in 1987, originally as the Malta Press Club. The Journalists Committee was set up two years ago because its founding members felt that the MIJ was not ‘aggressive’ enough. The Institute published a Code of Ethics which is administered by a Press Complaints Commission. The Commission can censure offending journalists.

There is also the Malta Printing Industry Association and the International Advertising Association Malta Chapter.

The two main regulators of the sector are the Broadcasting Authority and the Malta Communications Authority. Put simply, the first is responsible for the management of content while the latter is responsible for the management of the spectrum.

The Broadcasting Authority is the independent regulator set up by articles 118 and 119 of the Constitution.  It has the duty to ensure the preservation of due impartiality in respect of matters of political or industrial controversy, or relating to current public policy. It is also responsible to apportion in a fair manner broadcasting facilities and time, between persons belonging to different political parties. As part of its daily activities, the Authority monitors radio and TV stations, and regulates their performance in terms of their legal and licence obligations. Following amendments to the Broadcasting Act due to the transposition of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, the Broadcasting Authority will now also be responsible for the TV-like, non-linear media.

The members of the Authority are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister after consulting the Leader of the Opposition. This actually means that the Prime Minister appoints half the members and so does the Leader of the Opposition. The Chairman is many times appointed by mutual agreement.

The Malta Communications Authority, the regulator of the sector “is responsible to ensure freedom of communications, which shall not be limited except when there are higher values at stake, such as the protection of the right to privacy, or the prevention of crime. … … The MCA enables competition in the communications sector by facilitating market entry through a general authorisation, to provide networks and services and by regulating access to networks so as to develop effective choice for consumers, both business and residential. In a rapidly evolving sector, both in technological and commercial terms, the MCA provides the framework for the introduction of new services. The Authority also resolves disputes relating to communications, and in general ensures the well being of the communications markets” (Malta Communication Authority, April 1, 2007). The members of the Authority are appointed by the Minister for Communications.

There is no regulatory authority for the print sector. The Courts, quite naturally can be resorted to in the case of allegations that the law was broken.

The University of Malta, through its Centre for Communication Technology, gives degrees in communication studies. The first level degrees are general ones initiating students into different aspects of communication studies while providing a level of practical work in different areas such as video, desktop publishing and journalism. There is the possibility of specialising in some areas as part of a master’s programme of studies (Borg, 2009).

Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) provides more practical and technical courses in production of different media.

The Strickland Foundation and the Fundazzjoni Tumas Fenech ghall Edukazzjoni fil Gurnalizmu from time to time organise short courses in journalism. Formal training in journalism or other aspects of the media is of great help to those who want to follow a career in the media.

Malta has a long tradition in the teaching of media education in primary and secondary schools (Borg and Lauri, 2009). This helps thousands of students acquire skill in media literacy and empowers them to navigate in a much better way in the media environment.

The main source for basic and detailed information about Malta is the National Statistics Organisation. This regularly publishes statistical data about different aspects of Maltese society including different facets of the media. The Broadcasting Authority also publishes four media audience surveys every year. A commercial company called Informa Consultants also regularly publishes the results of its media surveys.

 Eurostat is becoming a very import source for information since its studies cover Malta as one of the EU member states.

Political, technical and legislative initiatives are providing the Maltese mediascape with a number of challenges and targets. The digital switchover date has been set for December 2010. A new digital terrestrial platform has to be set up while the law has to be changed to distinguish between commercial stations and general interest objective ones. The setting up of a radio digital platform along digital TV platforms is making Malta’s media concentration laws outdated. It is expected that these will be changed during 2010 and it will then be possible for one organisation to own more than one radio and/or radio station.

In December 2010 the public service obligation contract between government and PBS has to be renewed. This will provide a golden opportunity to update the National Broadcasting Plan in the light of the experiences learned from the first term of this contract. A select committee of Parliament has been set up to revise the way the public broadcaster is run and the Broadcasting Authority is composed.

Possibly these initiative will help to enhance the editorial independence of the public broadcaster and the updating of the structures of the content regulator in the area, so that the challenges that technology is presenting will be used to the maximum benefit of the industry, as well as of society at large and the media users.

On the other hand, the rapid increase in the uptake of the new digital media will continue to exert pressure on the traditional print and broadcasting media. Will more newspapers fold down? How will professional journalism adapt to the new citizen journalists? How will broadcasters be affected?

The future is hard to map but the creative possibilities that exist promise that it will be an exciting one.

  • Borg, J. (2009) “The Maltese Journalism Education Landscape.” Pp. 289 – 300. In Terzis, G. (Ed.) (2009) European Journalism Education. Bristol, UK: Intellect.
  • Borg, J. (2009) “Malta’s Media Landscape: An overview.” Pp. 19 – 33. In Borg, J., Hillman, A. and Lauri, M. A. (2009) (Eds.) Exploring the Maltese Media Landscape. Malta: Allied Publications
  • Borg, J., & Lauri, M.A. (2009) “Empowering Children in a Changing Media Environment. Media Education in the Maltese Educational System.” Pp. 113 – 136. In Marcus, L. (Ed.) (2009) Issues in Information and Media Literacy. Criticism, history and policy.  Santa Rosa, Calif.:  Science Press.
  • Borg, J. (2003) “Standard bearers, oasis seekers and wily contestants. Socio-cultural aspects of the right to information in Malta” (PDF). Paper commissioned by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. Retrieved 10 December, 2009 from
  • Broadcasting Authority (2009) Radio and TV Audience Assessment October 2008 – September 2009 and July to September 2009. Published December 2009.
  • Broadcasting Authority (2007b) Radio and TV Audiences January – March 2007. Published May 2007.
  • Eurostat News release 176/2009. Internet access and use in 2009. Released 8 December 2009.
  • Frendo, H (1994) Maltese Journalism 1838-1992. An Historical Overview. Malta: Press Club Publications
  • Hallin, D. C. and Mancini, P. (2004). Competing Media Systems. Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Media Warehouse. Research Analysis May to October 2008. Malta: Informa Consultants
  • Ministry for Information Technology and Investment and Ministry for Tourism and Culture (2004). National Broadcasting Policy May 2004. Malta: Government Press
  • NSO Press Release 217/2009. Post and Telecommunications. Q:3/2009. Released 3 December 2009

Joseph Borg
Centre for Communication Technology
University of Malta
MSD 2080 Malta
Tel: +0079440481