"At this time of year television stations in Malta are busy preparing their autumn schedules. Some have already made their calls public while others, notably the public broadcaster, is about to issue its call for new or established programmes to fill in the schedules between October 2006 and June 2007."Of course, the cynical may note that television stations in Malta are not so much preparing the schedules as wondering how much telebejgh they will have to broadcast to pad out the schedule and pay for their cardboard sets and cover the salaries of their dipsomaniac lighting technicians. Immediately, the eagle-eyed reader will suspect that Xuereb is attributing the ultra-competitive strategies of British, American or Italian broadcasters to frankly pathetic morons that produce television locally. It takes quite some stretch of the imagination to think that sharp-suited media analysts at Net are at this very moment carefully designing some killer line-up to knock whatever amateurish variety show for and by spastics at Super One on a Saturday afternoon off the top of the ratings board.
Xuereb then laboriously concludes that, indeed, scheduling is not an actual function of Maltese television. He attributes this to tight financial resources, overlooking the fact that the people charged with the task are, more often than not, little more than dribbling jabberjaws. Though apparently, in their Cro-Magnon brilliance they have arrived at an astounding fact:
"Over the past decade or so Maltese television seems to have accepted the norm that popularity is the way ahead."After a few more paragraphs of only very faintly relevant abstractions about the Maltese television scene, Xuereb takes refuge in the cosy drabness of academese, complete with customary bibliographic references:
"Media researchers, among them Timothy Legatt, a UK communications consultant, when discussing quality give special meaning to choice, range, variety, balance and appreciation. Mr Legatt concludes that popularity does not necessarily indicate viewers' opinions as to programme quality (Legatt in Ishikawa, 1996). Viewers tend to employ a different scale of values in judging quality."Hm, yes, how very true. I admit that it's been a few years since I've properly watched Maltese television, as even when I have been in the country, the broken Melita Cable box will not show TVM. As it is that I regularly return for Christmas, I do get to watch L-Istrina, which profoundly challenges my "scale of values in judging quality". It does this because there is no part of rational brain that can feasibly account for how awful the experience of watching that show is. As I imagine is the case with most people, my scale of values ranges from excellent to absolutely terrible, yet L-Istrina so comprehensively transcends any accepted degree of badness, that the viewing experience becomes an almost mystical detachment from standard cognitive norms. And yet, L-Istrina is hardly a great departure in terms of quality and content from the standards of Maltese broadcasting, which leaves Xuereb's bookish observations on their arse.
The very title (Quality on Television) and reccuring theme of the article (the word "quality" appears thirty times) is fundamentally alien to the realties of super-cheapo local television. But Xuereb describes a scenario that sounds like another country, if not another planet:
"Professional broadcasters and distinguished members of the public on the other hand have specific criteria for quality on television. Broadcasters feel that quality lies in their work: technical accomplishment and programme content. In the latter they are concerned with clarity of objective, innovativeness and relevance to viewers' current concerns. This complements the view from on high where, according to a set of distinguished persons, quality broadcasting should offer diversity of choices, opportunities at good viewing times to as many different tastes and interests as possible and assumes programming to seek constantly to renew, not to repeat formulae, to explore, to take risks, to push the boat out, to extend the frontiers and to take itself and the audience by surprise."
The vast majority of broadcasters (which became considerably vaster after the death of Charles Arrigo) may be professional in the sense of being paid, but they are hardly professional in the sense of competent. As for the distinguished people who comment on programming in the papers, in Malta this primarily consists of those who believe that watching the Biography Channel constitutes the height of intellectual sophistication.