The reaction of the Maltese community in Australia to the severe cuts in Maltese language programs on SBS Radio to come into effect from April has been intense. Since the SBS announcement of the new radio schedule in late November last year, several articles and letters to the editor, all critical of the decision, have been published in The Maltese Herald, the only Maltese newspaper circulated in Australia, in newspapers in Malta, and in various newsletters.
The MCCV wrote to federal and state members of Parliament, councillors as well as other prominent individuals to obtain support in our attempt to get some justice and have the SBS schedule revised. Getting the SBS Board to redress the situation, we realised, was always going to be a mammoth task.
The MCCV also wrote to the Maltese Government to seek its support.
It is understood that, upon receiving the MCCV communication, various members of Parliament and other prominent individuals wrote letters of support to SBS, strongly urging the national multicultural broadcaster to reconsider its decision.
In December last year a delegation consisting of the Malta High Commissioner in Canberra, H.E. Mr Francis Tabone, the Consul General of Malta in Victoria, Mr Charles Mifsud, and MCCV President, Professor Maurice Cauchi, met formally with SBS management representatives in Melbourne to argue the case for more Maltese language programs and seek a revision of the schedule. Mr Fred Fenech, President of the Community Council of NSW, and Mr Lawrence Dimech, a member of the Council for Maltese Living Abroad, also met with SBS representatives in Sydney to argue the case.
As part of its concerted campaign, the MCCV organised a petition urging SBS to review its drastic decision to decimate Maltese language radio programs and gathered more than 3,000 signatures. This was a significant community effort, given the short period of time in which the signatures were gathered and people going away during the holiday period. This petition, the largest of its kind ever undertaken within the Maltese community, was made possible through the assistance of several organisations and individuals from Victoria, NSW and South Australia. The MCCV is grateful to all those who assisted in organising the signature gathering.
In a follow-up meeting held in early February at SBS in Melbourne, delegation of the Maltese community in Victoria, consisting of MCCV President Professor Maurice Cauchi, MCCV PRO Dr Edwin Borg-Manché and the President of the Maltese Association Hobsons Bay, Chev Joe Attard, met with representatives from Minister Stephen Conroy’s office and an SBS senior executive to discuss the issue. The petition with over 3,000 signatures was presented to the representatives of Minister Conroy as well as to the SBS authorities during the meeting.
At this meeting, the Maltese community delegation reiterated several points that the MCCV had made to SBS in correspondence and in articles published on the MCCV website and its newsletter. These points had been also made at previous meetings with SBS representatives. The delegation stressed that the ageing Maltese community needed local content broadcast on radio in Maltese.
The MCCV has been very active in protesting against these program cuts, pointing out that the Maltese community cannot be compared directly with other ethnic groups with about the same number of persons speaking their original language. The Maltese in Australia definitely have needs that are not faced by other groups and, in particular, the lack of other local links and communications in both print and electronic media.
The MCCV is hopeful that the SBS Board will give some consideration to our requests and come up with some modification of the published Schedule.
One thing has clearly resulted from this campaign. While the Maltese community in Australia is normally regarded as a quiet, even laid-back community, we have shown that we are an organised and united community which reacts strongly when an injustice has been or is about to be committed against it. We have demonstrated that we will not take lightly any threat to our rights, and will lobby the powers that be in a concerted manner to seek their support and use every other legitimate means to ensure that they are respected.