An Employment Commission heard today how Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had warned Xarabank producers Norman Vella and Peppi Azzopardi that he would pay them back if they were unfair with the Labour Party.

Xarabank presenter Peppi Azzopardi confirmed how during a meeting prior to the second debate between Dr Muscat and then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, Dr Muscat had said: “For every blow that we feel you are striking the Labour Party, I will strike you twice, with all my strength, under the belt.”

Earlier, Mr Vella's lawyer Andrew Borg Cardona had read out the above phrase at the tribunal.

However, the version he read out ended with the words "where it hurts".

Mr Azzopardi called this evening to clarify that the words "where it hurts" were "an invention".

He said that when testifying during a hearing on a case filed by Mr Vella against Dr Muscat in which he is claiming political discrimination in the way he was re-deployed from PBS, the lawyer had purposely left out these words when confirming the exchange.

Mr Azzopardi also clarified that the comment was made in the context of an imbalance Dr Muscat had claimed he had suffered during a programme Bondi+, also produced by the company Where’s Everybody.

During the hearing, government head of communications Kurt Farrugia confirmed that something in this sense had been said, although he could not remember precisely the words which had been used. The words being used, he said, were "probably exaggerated".

He said the gist of what was said was that the Labour Party wanted “a level playing field” during such debates because during the first debate, a live phone call from a viewer on Labour’s clubs had caught Dr Muscat off guard.

Mr Farrugia said that although he personally believed Mr Vella was “biased” in the way he asked his questions, neither he nor the party had ever filed complaints against him with the Broadcasting Authority because he believed a journalist had the right to ask questions in what manner he wanted.

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