That’s not what you said, Mr Foreign Minister. And you can’t bring a journalist before the House on a breach of privilege complaint even if you want to.

Published: May 16, 2013 at 10:51am

control the media

The foreign minister, George Vella, said in parliament yesterday: “There is a need for US to control the media/WE need to control the media.”

It’s right there, in a voice recording on The Malta Independent and Times of Malta sites.

When The Malta Independent put up its report about his words, saying that the foreign minister said in parliament that the media should be controlled, Vella panicked and spoke again, mentioning a ‘breach of privilege’ against The Malta Independent for “reporting him badly.”

The Malta Independent did not report him badly at all, because that’s exactly what he said: “We need to control the media.” He is now saying that this is not what he said, that what he said was that the media need to control themselves.

The recording shows otherwise.

That the media need to control themselves might have been what he meant, inside his head, but it is definitely not what he said. And quite frankly, I think it’s not what he meant either.

This is a man who makes everyone, even guests he has invited, leave their mobile phones at the door when they step into his office, in case they record him.

But there’s worse. The Speaker of the House asked the foreign minister whether he wishes to raise a breach of privilege complaint against the editor of the newspaper. The foreign minister, having already changed his mind in five seconds, said No.

What’s shocking here is not that these two Mintoffjani were actually considering, even for the briefest of minutes, an antiquated breach of privilege motion last used by Dom Mintoff to punish his critics, BUT THAT THEY HAVE NO IDEA THIS IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE UNDER THE LAW.

We have a Speaker of the House, and a foreign minister, both of whom are seasoned parliamentarians who have have had a seat in the house for many years, WHO DON’T KNOW THAT IT IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE UNDER THE LAW TO RAISE A BREACH OF PRIVILEGE COMPLAINT AGAINST A JOURNALIST OR ANY OTHER OUTSIDER TO PARLIAMENT AND HAVE THEM PROSCUTED BY THE HOUSE.

How is it possible for the actual Speaker of the House, the arbiter of these things, not to know this? True, it’s Anglu Farrugia, but for heaven’s sake.

So what is a breach of privilege complaint?

It’s an old-fashioned, anti-constitutional, archaic device which allowed parliament to censure journalists, acting as court, judge and jury.

The last two times it was used were by the Mintoff government, first against Godfrey Grima (then a reporter) and later against Charles Demicoli (then editor of the satirical, anti-Labour newspaper Mhux Fl-Interess Tal-Poplu).

Charles Demicoli took his case to the European Court of Human Rights – Giovanni Bonello was his legal counsel – and won it. The ECHR ruled that parliamentary breach of privilege proceedings against a journalist or any other outsider to parliament are a violation of Article 6, the guarantee of a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal.

Parliament, as the supposed victim of an ‘offence’ by a journalist, cannot also try and convict him or her. Parliamentarians must simply use the libel law like everyone else, and take their case to the regular Law Courts.

The standing orders in parliament were then changed. True, a breach of privilege complaint may be technically raised, but all parliament is permitted to do is refer the matter to the police for criminal libel – in other words, the normal (and also archaic) law. Oh, and they can also ‘admonish’ the journalist – shades of Pyongyang, but absolutely irrelevant otherwise.

Not only should the Opposition have pounced on this one, but it should have coolly pointed out that the greatest transgressor, perhaps the sole transgressor, in the character-assassination and persecution stakes is in fact his party’s own media.

Super One TV and radio wear the crown of character assassination. In their pursuit of their enemies since 1992, they have been Stalinist. As one of the people most heavily on the receiving end of the entire onslaught of a political party’s huge media machine, and for two solid decades at that, I know exactly what I am talking about.

George Vella had best keep quiet about this one, or start by cleaning out the home stables.

Listen to the recordings in the links below.

36 Comments Comment

  1. Manuel says:

    when he spoke about agressive media etc etc, was he referring to the Super-One-Hate-Machine, by any chance? I doubt it. Hallina Eye-Brows.

  2. Jozef says:

    Ara l-faxxisti fejn qeghdin.

    ‘Nikkontrollaw, nkesksu minn taht, jirrispettana l-poplu’. It-tlieta principji ta’ Mussolini;

    Kontroll tal-mezzi, kontroll tal-gurnalisti anke permezz ta’ hlas, mizura kostanti tal-kunsens

    Kliem ta’ bniedem li jobghod u jibza’ mill-gudizzju ta’ nies liberi. Lanqas Ciano.

    Jigifieri issa l-gazzetti jibdew jistennew direttivi miktuba kull gimgha ta’ x’ghandhom jiktbu, jew jibghatu l-artikli ghac-censura qabel jippublikawhom?

    X’inhu aggressiv?

    • Jozef says:

      Bhallikieku demokrazija tista’ taghzel li tiskot ghax jittiehed xi vot ‘demokratiku’ fil-parlament.

      Gej l-inkwiet.

    • Carthago delenda est says:

      Ezatt Jozef, Faxxisti u bil-provi. Minn fuq iridu jakkuzaw lill-PN bil-passat faxxista taghhom minhabba li fl-eqqel tal-kolonjalizmu kienu filo-Taljani.

      L-(M)LP hu l-istess wiehed li fi zmien Mintoff holoq il-post tac-censur tal-Gvern fil-persuna ta’ (Dr) Reno Borg, l-istess wiehed li Joseph Muscat hatru rapprezentant tieghu fl-Awtorita’ tax-Xandir.

      Borg huwa l-istess persuna li fir-runup tal-kampanja elettorali li ghaddiet qajjem oggezzjoni puerili, wahda wara l-ohra, kontra l-ahbarijiet u programmi tal-PBS…

      Min irid jippoza tal-liberali u progressiv ukoll!

    • ciccio says:

      Jozef ghandu ragun.

      Tghid mhux se jbellghalna xi hadd li l-Labour ma jiffomentawx bil-media aggressiva biex isawwtu u jkesksu kontra min jiddeciedu li jridu jnehhu min nofs?

  3. maryanne says:

    Is Eyebrows aware of how many times he used the word ‘kontroll’?

  4. Abulafia says:

    Wait, didn’t Franco Debono raise a breach of privilege complaint last year, against Pierre Portelli, Andrew Borg Cardona and several others, including someone who mocked him in a comment?

    Maybe I’m missing something here.

    [Daphne – I see you haven’t read the post properly. Breach of privilege complaints against non-MPs are not possible.]

  5. Victor says:

    Well, he’s given us the reason for not allowing mobile phones in his office.

    They are all a bunch of amateurs, who say one thing and deny they ever said it in a matter of minutes.

    Actually, I thought that George Vella was living on the moon for the past years, seeing that he had the cheek to criticise the media now, after having Super One throwing venom on anyone who wasn’t on their side.

    And anyway, did you expect any better from these very same people who made a mockery of democracy in the past? I for one, am still trying to understand how people could be so naive(?) to have voted for the Labour Party when seeing all the old faces being presented as candidates.

  6. canon says:

    No wonder George Vella and others prohibited mobile phones with vistors when entering their offices.

    • etil says:

      Prohibit this and control that – shades of communism.

    • ciccio says:

      It’s part of the “let us reign in – ejja NIKKONTROLLAW – il-media taghna. Ghax Mhux imbilli nghidu ahna m’ghandna xejn kontra dak – ahna pozittivi…” thinking of the government.

  7. Baldrick says:

    Minister Vella should propose to ban mobile phones and all other recording equipment (both audio and visual) from the parliament chamber. Once at it he should suggest that reports are delivered verbally.

    Minute taking should also become a thing of the past.

    The strangers’ gallery should be turned into offices to accommodate some of the new ministers. Better yet it should be turned into a clinic/operating theatre to be used by doctors sitting on government benches.

    All in the name of liberal and progressive governance, of course.

  8. tinnat says:

    Hell, you’ve just given Labour an idea – re-institute the breach of privilege complaint…

  9. Stephen Borg Fiteni says:

    Exactly what I mean when I say the Nationalist Party are too timid.

  10. canon says:

    When the speaker Anglu Farrugia asked George Vella if he wanted to raise a breach of privilage, the speaker was suggesting it to Vella and he shouldn’t have asked him.

  11. canon says:

    Professor Oliver Friggieri will soon have enough material for a second volume about the life of Karlu Manju.

  12. Neil Dent says:

    Ejja nibdew fuq, ‘on the right leg’.

  13. Mario says:

    Wow, that didn’t take long!

    The mask is off and good ol’ Labour is back… with a vengence.

  14. Lomax says:

    I heard him live (during the broadcast). He first said it in English: “we need to rein in the media”. Then he said it in Maltese – and he used the word “nikkontrollaw”.

    I shuddered and was hoping that the media would pick on it. Thankfully, they did.

    So much for the most liberal government (or was it feminist?) in history?

  15. Rita Camilleri says:

    I wonder where Eddie Privitera is ? No comments from him about the above – seems very very strange, don’t you think?

    • Calculator says:

      I guess he must still be pondering how to take this. Where does the prospect of all media being forced to sing Labour’s praise leave him? What will he do with his time once there’s no criticism for him to attempt to react to? How will he fill in the long hours previously spent in front of the computer screen searching every nook and cranny of the local on-line media landscape to seek and destroy anti-Labour sentiments? Will he finally get a life?

      These are very serious questions which require deep thought and consideration.

    • ciccio says:

      He is controlling himself. Or maybe Labour is controlling him?

  16. silverbug says:

    Why the surprise? Did anyone bother to read the PL electoral programme? In it they have a telling paragraph to increase control on the media.

  17. rpacebonello says:

    Profs Scicluna is reported to welcome the recent report ECB on Malta’s economic performance. Thank you Dr Gonzi. I suppose he must be thrilled at the gag orders proposed by the foreign minister as these can only help to encourage foreign investment and improve further the economic situation. Employees in the financial sector must be over the moon.
    No doubt the foreign ambassadors will be be sending their reports to make the Foreign Minister’s comments know all over the world. This might attract North Korean investors as they are quite used to having their media muzzled.

    • Catsrbest says:

      Might attract North Korean investors, but repel American and Western ones – those who have a significant financial and I-gaming sectors.

  18. rpacebonello says:

    Re earlier comment. Report referred to was was by the IMF not the ECB

  19. Carthago delenda est says:

    Lil wiehed qalulu: “Ahleb, Guz.”

    Lil dan nghidulu: “Aghazaq, Gorg!”

  20. canon says:

    Is there a case of no confidence in the Speaker because of his incompetence in this matter? If there is, the Opposition should go for it.

  21. Rumplestiltskin says:

    What do you expect of one who,with others of his age, still probably considers the horrendous Mintoff era as ‘the Golden Years?’

  22. catharsis says:

    He certainly has the knack of putting his foot in it, doesn’t he.

  23. Marlowe says:

    I’m more disappointed with the media rather than the foreign minister. The Times has been almost nonchalant. ‘Oh look, he said this, here’s a recording’. If I were a journalist, I’d declare an intellectual war with the sod and be up in arms.

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