The government needs to do more than fire the Film Commissioner. That is what an association of local film producers asked the government to do but that request does not address the suspicion that former Labour Party employee Johann Grech was narrowing the field of suppliers in Malta in order to profit directly from the activity.
It is problematic enough that a good chunk of the film servicing industry in Malta appears to be composed of former Film Commissioners. No doubt you need to know something about film to be a film commissioner. And no doubt if you know something about film and you’re no longer a film commissioner you’re likely to do something in film.
But it is disturbing to see the position being used (with a few notable exceptions) as a platform for profit in the industry.
It’s bad enough that that profit materialises after the departure of the commissioner. But when an incumbent practitioner starts pointing customers to their buddies, reducing the supply things don’t look good at all.
It is not just unfair. Choking out the competition drives prices up and competitiveness down. It also reduces capacity and the ability of Malta’s industry to absorb more business. It also reduces the range of talent available to potential international producers shopping around for locations. Sometimes the experience and the specific skills of their local location partner are a deal breaker and this buddies-first system the present commissioner has introduced impacts all those whose livelihood depends on the trickle down impact of the film business.
The report on The Shift News yesterday showed how the 2018 list of production companies listed 22 businesses. The 2020 list went down to 7. The businesses may have vanished from the list the film commission sends out but yesterday’s statement by the producers’ association says they’re still there wondering why their order book has dried up while a few seem never to stop pumping work.
This government interference in business is corrupt whether Johann Grech has pocketed anything out of it or not. Unless there are objective criteria for eligibility that everyone is aware of so that it is up to them to work to satisfy those criteria, the government must put on the list they give to suppliers everyone who meets known standards.
Yet another corruption scandal. And unsurprisingly at the heart of it yet another attendee at that Apalachin Meeting of mafiosi at Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri’s table. Also at the same table Engelbert Grech. Johann Grech’s predecessor as film commissioner and listed on the thin crowd of selectees introduced by Johann Grech to producers looking to film in Malta.
Here’s the statement by the producers’ association:
PRESS RELEASE MALTA PRODUCERS ASSOCIATION
The news today reported by The Shift News that the Malta Film Commission has been caught selectively promoting certain local film production companies to international producers to the exclusion of everyone else in the industry is shocking but hardly surprising. The writing has been on the wall for some time now with many industry stakeholders becoming increasingly concerned that the film industry seems to be doing well only for a chosen few. It should go without saying that the private sector must be allowed to function without any interference from partisan interests.
The fact that a government authority is willfully and maliciously interfering with the livelihoods of private citizens is corrupt and utterly unacceptable in a democratic nation in the EU. For years, producers and line producers have been calling for the system to return to being open and transparent, with a full, public directory of producers and other service providers being available online. The Malta Producers Association aligns itself with this call.
This is the system used the world over to ensure a level playing field for all stakeholders. It allows international filmmakers to collaborate with persons or companies based on their own research and due diligence. The Film Commission had, some years ago, inexplicably removed the existing online directory and replaced it with an opaque system it called ‘Opportunities For All’. To date no online directory has been uploaded.
It is bitterly ironic that despite its title the new system seems to have been designed to be an opportunity for the very few, determined privately and arbitrarily by the Film Commissioner, Johann Grech, who was appointed by the disgraced Konrad Mizzi. We have little doubt that the employees at Malta Film Commission are acting on specific instruction of Johann Grech.
This is a blatant abuse of his position and shamelessly distorts the market. It is a blatant violation of the rights of all producers to be given an equal opportunity to work and reveals his talk of providing Opportunities for All to be nothing but pure spin. That this is done in an industry where Malta’s reputation is paramount, makes his actions even more treacherous and deals yet another blow to Malta’s reputation in an industry which is so sensitive to the exercise of good practice and good governance.
With Johann Grech caught in flagrante, the MPA demands his immediate resignation and failing that, we call for his immediate removal by the Minister for Tourism, Julia Farrugia Portelli, who is responsible for the film industry. Furthermore, we demand the immediate return of the online directory listing all film personnel. There is no doubt that the film industry will suffer a loss of confidence as a result of today’s revelations but the recovery can begin today on the basis of swift, decisive and uncompromising action to get the industry back on track and moving once more in the right direction.
Finally, we would like to thank the independent media for their tireless and often thankless work in holding power to account and bringing corruption to the attention of the public and relevant authorities. The only way to combat this kind of institutional corruption is to shine a bright light on it and we urge anyone who has more information on this or any other wrongdoing to find the courage to step forward. Together we can fight this and ensure that the film industry really does provide ‘opportunities for all’ those who hold the industry at heart and are seeking to build a free, fair and sustainable career in the film industry.