A judge rapped the Broadcasting Authority on Wednesday for failing to provide an effective remedy after PBS did not broadcast footage of the angry scenes in and outside parliament when the vote on the Jean-Paul Sofia inquiry was taken last July. 

Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff found that the Nationalist Party’s fundamental rights were breached when the Broadcasting Authority failed to provide a remedy despite having found an imbalance by the state broadcaster.

Labour MPs had voted down an Opposition motion for the holding of a public inquiry into the building collapse in which Sofia was killed.  

Mr Justice Mintoff said the footage of what happened afterwards would “certainly have had an impact….on viewers,” and would have put the out-voted motion in a different light.

The judge threw out the BA's preliminary pleas that the PN had failed to exhaust ordinary remedies and that it lacked juridical interest.  

As for the merits, the judge said there was no doubt that the BA had failed to ensure impartiality when exercising its constitutional duties.

It had heard the PN’s complaint on July 17 but then took nine days to deliver its decision, despite its urgency.

In view of its constitutional duties towards the people, “such a nine-day delay was unacceptable,” said the court. The circumstances merited a more delicate, expeditious and urgent handling.

“Here we are not dealing with the behaviour of some MP inside and outside the House, but the actions of a mother, father and other relatives of a youth who died when the building under construction at Corradino, collapsed.” 

Yet the BA dealt with it as “ordinary business of the day,” the judge said.

And when it finally delivered its decision, the BA provided no remedy “and that resulted in its second gross failure.”

During the hearing of the case, BA chair Frank Farrugia gave no explanation for that nine-day delay. He testified that “meanwhile many problems crop up in the country and we reached a decision and delivered a decision.”

The judge said his words reflected “total indifference” by the authority towards its own duties. 

In circumstances where the BA itself acknowledged the importance of the matter, one would have expected not merely a remedy but a “strong reprimand” by the authority, he said. 

Instead the BA provided no remedy and did not even explain why it had failed to do so. 

As for PBS, it too had a duty of impartiality. 

Yet PBS “tried to hide from public view those instances when a BA decision went against it-at least concerning a PN complaint- but not when such complaint was deemed unjustified,” the judge said. 

The court concluded that PN’s right to freedom of expression was breached. 

While the PN did not suffer any pecuniary damages, “non-pecuniary damages were certainly due,” the judge said. 

The court deemed that €2000 by BA and PBS each would be “just and sufficient compensation” for the PN.

Moreover, it ordered PBS to report a well-explained and faithful summary of the judgment, allocating a prominent spot during TVM’s 8pm news bulletin by not later than one week after final judgment.

Lawyers Paul Borg Olivier represented PN Secretary General Michael Piccinino

PN: Further confirmation that the people were denied the truth

In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said the judgement was further confirmation that the Broadcasting Authority and PBS breached the people's right to be told the truth. 

"This is further confirmation that PBS is Robert Abela's propaganda machine," Opposition leader Bernard Grech said in a statement outside the law courts.

"Robert Abela is scared of the truth."  

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