Department of Information marks 50th anniversary
The very early days
School broadcasting was among the first activities carried out by the Department of Information. Picture shows (from left) Eddie Sammut, Victor Mercieca and Lawrence Mizzi, all former teachers who were engaged as scriptwriters with the then Central Office of Information during live school broadcasts produced at the Rediffusion studios at Vincenti Buildings in Melita Street, formerly Britannia Street, Valletta. Pictures: DOI
Ms Azzopardi had called at the DOI with a school teacher friend of hers for an interview as a scriptwriter with Toni Pellegrini, a DOI officer. "When he saw me, Mr Pellegrini said he was about to send for me to attend an interview for the post of scriptwriter".
At that time, Ms Azzopardi was a primary school teacher in Paola and when she handed in her resignation, her head teacher, Dolores Vella, whom Ms Azzopardi described as one of the best heads in Malta, did not want to "lose her". "But I wanted to make a career of broadcasting and that's what I did."
A teacher's salary was £10 a month but scriptwriters had an additional allowance of £3 a month instead of overtime.
Initially, she spent two years teaching in the morning and as a broadcaster in the afternoon with the Education Department in St Christopher Street, Valletta where Lewis Portelli was head of broadcasters.
"We used to write a story, adapt it to a radio play and direct it to be broadcast over Rediffusion, the cable radio system. Other broadcasters were Guzi Mallia, who used to recount fairy tales, George Stevens, Mannie Spiteri, Tony Parnis and Lawrence Mizzi.
Mr Naudi served as director of information between 1955 and 1973.
"In 1955, Prime Minister Dom Mintoff asked me to start an information office. The media and how to deal with it was new ground. The Department of Information was my baby. Today, with so many publicity agents and communication studies students graduating from the university, the situation is completely different."
The first information department was set up by the British government during the war.
"I was responsible also for importing the butter and cheese that was donated by CARE."
CARE was founded in 1945 when 22 American organisations came together to rush lifesaving packages to survivors of World War II. The name CARE stood for Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe. About 70,000 families were recipients of such foodstuffs.
"I used to import shiploads of these food items and I was virtually an importer, a merchant and a distributor using a coupon system to keep track of who got his share and who did not. The food items were distributed from police stations and from schools." The handling of the CARE foodstuffs was passed on to the Labour and Social Welfare department in 1959.
"Before being appointed director of information, I was a second-class clerk, a rank that is equivalent to today's executive officer and was the highest rank you could reach in the department with the grand salary of £8 a month.
"I made history when, in a week, I moved up from a second-class clerk to head of department." Mr Naudi set up a news division and bought the services of three news sources - Reuters, Ansa and Tass.
Ms Azzopardi recalled that two of her colleagues used to compile a news bulletin and another one would read it over Rediffusion.
The DOI was also responsible for transcribing and distributing copies of the debates of the Round Table conference on integration.
The script was broadcast over Rediffusion, a broadcasting system introduced during World War II by the British government initially to broadcast air raid warnings.
The government printing press formed part of the DOI.
"In 1956, Mr Mintoff wanted me to be secretary of the delegations from Malta that used to attend the integration talks in Britain."
Mr Mintoff was negotiating with Britain for Malta to be integrated with Britain, having representatives at Westminster and Maltese employed with the British services receiving the same pay as their British counterparts.
"At that time, the only link with Malta was the telegraph. In order to confuse eavesdroppers, messages we wrote were in a five-letter code.
"We used a five-letter code in Maltese put together by Mr Mintoff himself. There were times when I spent hours relaying the messages over the telegraph".
Mr Naudi described Mr Mintoff as a brilliant man who used to listen to and accept suggestions.
Ms Azzopardi and a number of other colleagues had gone to the BBC to attend a scriptwriters' course. "At the BBC, they could not believe we wrote stories, adapted them to radio and also played a part in them."
Eventually, she was promoted as head of the photographic and film division. The films were in Super 8 format.
Between 1958 and 1962, when Malta was governed from Westminster - Mr Mintoff had resigned in 1958 in protest against colonial government plans to lay off hundreds of workers - the British government set up a Broadcasting Authority and put a certain Peter Hayman in charge.
The DOI had set up a film division responsible for making documentaries. One such film was called Crafts Of An Island that was screened in the Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan.
"The DOI used to pass on such films and feeds to Rediffusion. Prime Minister Gorg Borg Olivier liked the idea but Prime Minister Mintoff was dead set against it and the practice was discontinued".
Did he have any human resources problems?
"I used to delegate but if a mistake was made by any member of the team, I answered for it.
"I never made anyone face the music on one's own. We worked hand in hand under various governments. I never filed a report on anyone and never transferred anyone, either.
"If a report of any wrongdoing reached me, I first checked the facts and if anybody was at fault, I would send for them and give them a good dressing down but everything would remain within the walls of the department."
After serving as director of information, Mr Naudi was appointed permanent secretary at the department of education. He was succeeded at the DOI by Toni Pellegrini.
"I never took a political stand with any of the governments. I served the government of the day and not the political party".
When tourism was added to his list of responsibilities, he made it a point to rope in people directly involved in the industry such as Roger Strickland, chairman of the Phoenicia Hotel, the only hotel of its calibre at the time.
"When the DOI had to take care of visiting reporters for the 1964 independence celebrations, the Prime Minister's private secretary, Victor Ragonesi, told me: 'That's your problem'".
"So I improvised by taking over St Michael's Training College at Ta' Giorni which was a residential college for student teachers. And put Arthur Pace and a certain Watkins in charge of the catering facilities.
"The college could accommodate 200 people and about 100 reporters came here to cover the Independence celebrations.
"The college was run on the lines of a hotel. I assigned a boy scout to every room so that he could run errands for each reporter.
"In the end, all the reporters understood our problem and appreciated the way we had improvised.
"Another person I had brought in because of his experience was Louis de Giorgio who was the head of Thomas Cook here. We set up a committee in charge of beach cleaning and bought a machine to clean sandy beaches. We also started printing publicity brochures."
Ms Azzopardi recalled that every time a man would walk into the office carrying a tray of cheesecakes, the staff would know they would be expected to work overtime.
They worked on a roster basis with the department closing its doors at 10 p.m.
"All we needed to do was take a bed with us to work, seeing that we spent so many hours there", she said smiling.
Technische Angaben / Inhaltliche Merkmale
Haupttitel ARTS AND CRAFTS OF AN ISLAND
Laufzeit (min) 30
Aufnahmetechnik 16 mm, Farbe
Inhalt Discusses the importance of native traditions on the island of Malta and visits places of interest. Shows how Malta's craftsmen combine traditional and modern techniques.
Friday, 25th July 2008
Department of Information footage
Anthony Parnis, Sta Venera
On July 17, I happened to zap on a PBS programme called Mill-Arkivji tal-PBS (From PBS Archives). To my amazement they were showing a colour film of the royal visit soon after Independence when Xandir Malta were years away from filming and broadcasting in colour. In fact, the footage shown was a documentary filmed at that time by the DOI film unit entitled Malta Welcomes Her Queen. I know because I happened to be one of the production team. At this point I am not interested to find out how this film ended in the PBS archives but at least they should have given the DOI credit.
Since the early 1960s up to mid-1990s, starting with the now well-viewed funeral of Dun .or. Preca, the DOI film unit produced hundreds of newsreels and colour documentaries which today are priceless. I can vouch that there is on film the recent history of Malta under various Administrations, hopefully stored at the DOI. Some of the footage is in black and white but most of the documentaries were filmed in colour when local television was still transmitting in black and white.
I am aware that some footage, or copies of it, has ended up in the archives of various TV stations, mainly precious aerial shots taken when Malta was not so built up. I personally can easily identify such films when I watch the programmes shown. However, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong if this historical footage is aired but one expects some kind of credit.
The DOI had a hardworking and highly professional film unit. All films were sent for processing in a lab in the UK and masters were kept there stored in ideal conditions.
Unfortunately, when I was Director of Information we had to bring all the masters and cut remnants when it became impossible for the UK lab to keep them without asking for exorbitant prices. Soon after, I retired. It is worrying to think of what happened to this historical treasure.
When the DOI marked its 50th anniversary, the late director, Emanuel Abela, had asked a local company, which had restored the feature film Il-Ga..a with great success, to make samples of how these films can be restored. The result was breathtaking and was shown to the distinguished guests gathered for the anniversary celebrations. The problem with old films is that they tend to flake and lose there colour quality. As far as I know, since then nothing has happened except that air conditioning was installed. No serious effort was made for these films to be restored and properly catalogued.
At this point in time I am of the opinion that since the PBS, under the professional guidance of Charles Abela Mizzi, are doing such a good job with PBS archives, these precious DOI films should be handed over to the national broadcaster following a commitment of restoration and proper cataloguing.
The sooner this move is made the better because people involved in their production are getting on in age and, without them being available for consultation, identification of certain footage could prove difficult.
I also suggest that the more important documentaries like the two royal visits, Malta's Independence, Freedom Day celebrations, Ninu Cremona, Dun Karm, Crafts Of An Island, Heritage In Stone etc. should be immediately restored and transferred on to DVDs for better conservation.
I sincerely hope that my advice would be taken up by the Parliamentary Secretary for Information since this has to be an important political decision.