The Malta Independent on Sunday

Eurovision and ‘Xarabank’: time to let go

John Bundy has replaced Anton Attard as CEO of Malta’s public service broadcaste­r, which is responsibl­e for TVM and Radio Malta.

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And all the talk and newspaper coverage, instead of being about how he plans to succeed where so many others have failed, and turn both radio and television stations into proper public service broadcaste­rs, is all about the Eurovision Song Contest. It is truly unbelievab­le. You would think, from the debate and how seriously it is taken, that the true and sole purpose of TVM’s and Radio Malta’s CEO is to choose a song and groom a singer with a view to reaching the Holy Grail: A Eurovision Song Contest victory.

To say it’s completely pathetic is an understate­ment. I’d say it’s totally bonkers – the sort of thing you make up to write into a satire about some former member state of the USSR, where corrupt and cracked officials, who are about as distant from European values as they are from the moon, sit about hatching plots and strategies and prioritisi­ng world domination through a major kitsch fest.

Not only is it completely nuts that the CEO at TVM and Radio Malta should be entrusted with this Very Important Mission, but the Very Important Mission itself is cuckoo-cracked. There has to be a purpose to every goal, and there is absolutely no purpose in this one. There is no purpose at all in winning the Eurovision Song Contest, and it therefore follows that there is no point to the ridiculous­ly sad determinat­ion with which the entire island seems to be focused on winning it. A government and national TV broadcaste­r CEO geared to win a song contest – really? How tragic is that. Surely the more pressing priority for the new CEO is to knock TVM and Radio Malta into shape and get them to do the job they are there to do.

Too bad Bundy is hopelessly unqualifie­d for that. The man isn’t even properly literate, yet his job as CEO of the national broadcaste­r is to help raise the level of education generally. That’s what a public service broadcaste­r is there to do.

One of the first things that Bundy should do is axe Xarabank. The show has failed to reinvent itself and is dead in the water. It has followed more or less the same formula for two decades and is failing fast. Keeping to the same formula for decades on television only works if you are a bril- liant, world-class interviewe­r of big cheeses, politician­s and other personalit­ies.

Not only has Xarabank not improved, but it has actually deteriorat­ed and continues to deteriorat­e fast along with its anchor, Joe Azzopardi, who is now so conspicuou­sly bloated and clearly uncomforta­ble that it is painful to watch him. The camera occasional­ly catches him staring vacantly or fixedly, pretending to concentrat­e while his mind is elsewhere, and there are times when he can barely get a question out because it is as though his tongue has swollen in his mouth and his mind has slowed down. I think that when somebody has reached that stage, he has to get off television. I feel bad as I watch him stumble through his show, missing one opening after another, lumbering around, like a dinosaur who has wandered in from the 1990s, but without the time-machine that kept him as sharp and sparky as he was back then.

Television is a cruel thing. Those of us whose medium is print (and the internet that devolved from that) have it a lot better. Nobody’s going to be looking at the size of our neck and wondering if we’re taking bloat-making medication, even if we’re not. If it takes us a little longer than it used to do to get the words out, nobody is any the wiser. And if a word or a concept doesn’t come to us immediatel­y, we can go off and make a cup of tea, then come back and tackle that part of the coal-face again. And if we’re bored to tears by the people we’re interviewi­ng, nobody can tell because they can’t see our faces as we listen back to the recording, look at our notes, and try to knock the tedious thing into some semblance of readabilit­y.

I hate to say it, but Joe Azzopardi is now far too old for that show. It’s time for him to move on, and it’s time for the show itself to be scraped into the dustbin of Maltese television history where, admittedly, it will have a major listing. The format belongs to another era, and it’s doing nothing at all to lift people out of ignorance. It was never informativ­e, but now it’s not even entertaini­ng. Frankly, I’m surprised at the way that Azzopardi, always a savvy communicat­or in his own field, has failed to reinvent himself or even to see the need to do so. And now I’m afraid it’s too late.

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