State Advocate Chris Soler has defended the right of Labour and PN to own TV stations in response to a court case filed by Lovin Malta which argues the broadcasting of political propaganda is unconstitutional.
In a legal submission, Soler and lawyer Chris Falzon Scerri (who has since been made a judge) explained why they believe a 1991 piece of legislation that paved the way for the launch of ONE is in line with the constitutional requirement for broadcasting to be “duly impartial”.
The Constitution, the highest law of the land, obliges the Broadcasting Authority to ensure that, as far as possible, TV stations preserve due impartiality in matters of political or industrial controversy.
It also obliges the BA to ensure that broadcasting facilities and time are fairly apportioned between people belonging to different political parties.
However, the Broadcasting Act of 1991 states that when regulating impartiality among private TV stations, the BA can choose to look at the general output of current affairs programmes across all licensees as a whole.
Therefore, the propaganda aired on ONE and NET are seen to balance each other out, so long as they’re both functioning.
Soler’s argument is that this broadcasting proviso actually complements and supplements the Constitution.
“Effectively, the proviso delineates how the power vested in it by the Constitution should be applied in light of the arrival of TV stations which by their very nature are intended to satisfy the rights of political parties to broadcast their political messages in the interests of the community while adhering to factuality in broadcasting,” he said.
He added that this is in the spirit of the constitutional clause which states that broadcasting facilities and time should be “fairly apportioned between people belonging to different political parties”.
“This proviso reflects the evolution of broadcasting regulations with the times and respects media pluralism and freedom,” he said.
In this context, he said that while the Constitution establishes the principle that the BA should ensure political parties are given the means and opportunity to get their political message across, the proviso in the 1991 law specifies how the BA should fulfil its constitutional obligations.
Soler argued that the Constitution contemplates the possibility of political parties owning TV stations, with impartiality reached by ensuring every party is allotted broadcasting time fairly to allow them to counter the message the other party is sending.
He didn’t specify how this principle can be reached when only PL and PN, and not all political parties, own their TV stations.
“After all, Article 119 [in the Constitution] speaks about due impartiality ‘as far as possible’. Therefore the Constitution doesn’t close the road for the introduction of media pluralism or impose absolute impartiality. On the other hand, Article 13 [in the Broadcasting Act] doesn’t sanction some lack of due impartiality or substitute what is written in the Constitution.”
You can find out more about Lovin Malta’s court case here.
What do you make of the State Advocate’s argument?