The regulator tasked by the constitution to ensure balance and impartiality by the state broadcaster has again been declared useless by a judge.

Referring to evidence given by Malta Broadcasting Authority chairman Frank Farrugia, Mr Justice Wenzu Mintoff said his words prove the regulator’s “absolute indifference… towards its duties”.

The first hall, the civil court, in its constitutional jurisdiction, ruled just days ago that the Nationalist Party’s fundamental rights were breached when the watchdog failed to provide a remedy despite having found an imbalance by Public Broadcasting Services (PBS).

Just over a year earlier, the constitutional court, composed of Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr Justice Anthony Ellul, had lambasted PBS for manifestly and flagrantly breaching its obligations by not faithfully abiding by an order issued by the broadcasting authority. The regulator had then merely “washed its hands of the issue”.

The three judges were, in essence, confirming and adding their weight to an earlier decision by Mr Justice Grazio Mercieca who had slammed the state broadcasting station for defiance and the regulator for dragging its feet.

That PBS tends to serve as their political master’s voice is, regrettably, a given, the doing of the two large political parties that take it in turns to call the shots.

This point had been raised by Mr Justice Mercieca. Calling for the right to freedom of expression not to continue being trampled upon, the judge remarked that when the loser became the winner – one party moving from the opposition to government – the same abuse would persist.

“And, so, history repeats itself. Such cat and mouse tactics must stop once and for all,” the judge said, noting that his comment “remained a solitary voice in the wilderness”.

The judgment just handed down by Mr Justice Mintoff proves him right.

The state broadcaster is manned by blue-eyed boys, unable or unwilling to stand up to be counted. Doing what their RAI colleagues in neighbouring Italy did, deciding to strike in protest against the “stifling control” exercised over their work by Giorgia Meloni’s government, would be anathema to them.

However, one would expect much better from the men sitting on the Broadcasting Authority board. The regulator is tasked by the country’s supreme law to ensure “due impartiality is preserved in respect of matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy and that broadcasting facilities and time are fairly apportioned between persons belonging to different political parties”. Still, one court after another, one judge after another, point out that the regulator grossly failed in its constitutional duties.

In the latest court case, Mr Justice Mintoff chastised the broadcasting watchdog for two gross failures. It took nine days to decide about an issue – the angry scenes inside parliament and outside when the government voted against an opposition motion to hold a public inquiry into Jean Paul Sofia’s death – that was of an urgent nature. And, then, it failed to provide a remedy when it finally decided.

Unashamedly, the five-man board, three effectively selected by the prime minister and two by the leader of the opposition, carry on as if they are intrepid guardians of the right to freedom of expression.

The Labour Party in power is, of course, comfortable with the status quo. But did the Nationalist Party at least demand an explanation from its representatives?

The function and composition of the Malta Broadcasting Authority has long been questioned. The recent court judgments make such a review even more urgent.

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