The Malta Independent 18 April 2024, Thursday
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A comment on PN v PBS

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 12 March 2023, 08:46 Last update: about 2 years ago

Last month – on Monday 27 February to be precise – the highest court of the land, the Constitutional Court, delivered a decision with far-reaching implications: Partit Nazzjonalista v. Awtorità tax-Xandir, Public Broadcasting Services Limited et.

A lot has already been written about this decision, so I won’t be repeating what has already been said. It will be enough to point out that the Nationalist Party took the Broadcasting Authority and PBS to court because, among other things, it felt that PBS dealt with it unfairly and that the BA did not perform its supervisory duties until it – the PN – complained, and by then the unfair news reporting had already been consumed by the viewing public.

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Needless to say, one has to compliment lawyers Paul Borg Olivier and Francis Zammit Dimech for ably defending the PN’s position. I urge readers to find this decision online and read it. It’s written in a Maltese that’s easily accessible to the general public, and, though the style is formal, the prose is bereft of flowery legalese (and aesthetically pleasing). I think that, apart from the legal points it contains, this decision is also useful as a tool for laymen to acquaint themselves with the Constitution, the right to freedom of expression, and what the general public should expect from public broadcasting.

I’ll concentrate on two features of the decision.

First, paragraph 28: “Neither is the Broadcasting Authority’s argument correct that since each political party may have its own political station, then the impartiality imposed by the Constitution is no longer applicable [...] as the Authority has argued. As a matter of fact, it clearly transpires from Article 119(1) of the Constitution that this requirement of impartiality in broadcasting applies to all broadcasting services provided in Malta, both public and private, and without any limitations [...]”.

I don’t want to go into the legal observations made by the Court, though they are certainly pertinent and, as I said, I invite readers to read the decision and inform themselves as to what they can rightfully expect.

What I want to underline, instead, is the political argument implicit in the Court’s observation.

(For those who read more into things than they should, I’m not implying that the Court has taken a political, i.e. partisan, position. The fact is that constitutional law is a hybrid law: partly law, partly political theory. So any argument on constitutional law is, by its very nature, also political. This, for those scrupulous readers who suffer from a chronic tendency to see political sin where there is none.)

In that observation, the Court’s reacting to the political content of the BA’s argument, namely that a provision of the Constitution is no longer applicable. In the following paragraph (paragraph 29), the Court had to spell out the obvious: “The obligation of impartiality in broadcasting set out in the Constitution is still applicable to this very day”.

The BA’s argument is unbelievable! How can the BA actually argue that even one provision of the Constitution is a dead letter? How can it try to convince the Constitutional Court of this heresy, to boot?

I find this not only highly objectionable but also indicative of the decay in the approach toward the State and its apparatuses.

This pernicious, tyrannical mentality has contaminated the Government and its appointees. How can one seriously argue that the Constitution – or even just one of its provisions – is no longer applicable? The Constitution is the Constitution. It’s the highest law of the land, the grundnorm of which all other laws are an emanation. How can anybody seriously argue that the Supreme Law of the Land is no longer applicable? Or is this Government actually thinking that the Constitution is no longer the country’s Supreme Law? That it – the Government – is actually above the Constitution?

If circumstances have indeed changed, then the constitutional document can be amended – but only by Parliament. And only in accordance with the provisions of article 66 of the Constitution.

Article 66 lays down that certain articles – including article 119 (the article about impartiality in broadcasting) – can only be altered if “not less than two-thirds of all the members of the House” agree to the amendment.

The argument made by the BA seems to be that the BA can circumvent both Parliament and the Constitution and apply its own amendment to the Constitution because it believes that circumstances have changed!

This seems to me symptomatic of the ongoing gradual dismantling of the State, or at least of the brazen-faced attempts at dismantling it, by the Labour Administration.

This is outrageous!

The Constitution – whether one likes it or not – is the Constitution. Giovanni Bonello has written a book called Misunderstanding the Constitution. Now he should write its sequel: Discarding the Constitution.

People might not care about this because it doesn’t have an effect on their personal finances. But they should care. The obscene disregard for the Constitution is the beginning of tyranny.

Our tax-money

Then again, the other feature I want to highlight in this decision is about our tax-money.

The Court, in its conclusions, decided that the appeal lodged by the BA was frivolous and vexatious.

Put differently, it means that this appeal was a waste of time and public money. Public money because the Court is paid from our taxes, the Broadcasting Authority itself, the lawyers it engaged, the State Advocate – all these are paid from our taxes. Why should our taxes be wasted on frivolous and vexatious appeals?

The Court also ordered PBS and the BA to pay € 5,000 each to the Nationalist Party in damages. It goes without saying that these € 10,000 will help the PN – but it’s difficult to believe that the PN opened this case for money. The point here is that those € 10,000 come from our taxes too.

Why all this waste?

Is there no accountability?

The State doesn’t find its money on the pavement. Those ten thousand euros came from the sweat and toil of honest taxpayers. The salaries paid to lawyers, judges, Court personnel, and all those involved in this “frivolous and vexatious” appeal all came from the hard work of honest taxpayers.

I think it’s time to wake up and take a stand. Public money means tax-money that comes from the public. It’s our money, which is taken from us on the understanding that it will be spent judiciously.

For the benefit of the usual moronic suspects, “judiciously” and “judicially” aren’t synonymous. When we say that politicians and political appointees should spend our tax-money judiciously, we don’t mean it should be spent judicially – in a way that involves a law court – but wisely, prudently, diligently, as if it were their own money.

The Prime Minister knows how to spend his own money judiciously – he’s about to refurbish a building in Xewkija. Why can’t he make sure his Administration too is judicious when it comes to spending our tax-money?

Meloni v. Schlein

Italy has long been considered Europe’s political laboratory. Possibly even the world’s political laboratory.

This perception of Italy is not new. In the 1920s, many international observers analysed Mussolini’s politics. Half of them – in both America and in Europe – admired the man. The other half considered him a dangerous tyrant. But the point is that Mussolini’s experiment had captured the world’s attention.

This view – of Italy as Europe’s political laboratory – has persisted. Only a few years ago, the Italian Cultural Institute in London proposed a lecture called “Italy as Europe’s Political Laboratory? Thirty Years of Italian Political History, 1990–2018”.

The fact is that the Italians are Europe’s political philosophers par excellence – and they experiment their philosophy on themselves. Not all Italians are happy with this, needless to say – but for us onlookers it’s nothing short of fascinating.

The election of Elly Schlein to Secretary (i.e., Leader) of the Italian “Left” – the Partito Democratico – is a new experiment in this busy laboratory. The PD seems to reckon that Ms Schlein can deliver the KO they hope will eventually dethrone the current right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

For anybody interested in applied political philosophy, these two women are reifications of the current political tussle dominating the West.

Giorgia Meloni defines herself as “a [straight] woman, a mother, and a Christian”. She’s against the progressive “Parent 1/Parent 2” nomenclature. She aspires to reduce the number of abortions in her country, opposes surrogacy and adoption by same-sex couples, and does not support euthanasia. She believes that legalising cannabis in Italy is “madness” (“follia”). She’s a patriot, who believes that love for the planet is best expressed as love for the corner of the world one lives in – she believes everybody should be guided by patriotism for their own country: when she spoke during a Vox mass meeting in Spain, she addressed her audience as, “Patriotas!” She claims she’s proud she was brought up in the township of Garbatella, a housing estate in Rome.

Elly Schlein, like many in the PD, is bourgeois. She defines herself as “a woman. I love another woman and am not a mother.” In 2020, during the TV programme L’assedio, she said she had had many relationships in the past, having loved many men and many women. She believes that abortion is a right that should prevail over doctors’ conscientious objections, and favours euthanasia and cannabis – in a word, she’s what some Italians refer to as “radical chic”. She is all-out for LGBT rights and genderfluid issues, opposes the right of families to have the last word on their children’s education, and embraces anti-human ecologism. She’s Jewish and has three nationalities: Italian, Swiss, and American.

These two women embody the two poles of current political thought. Meloni, nationalist and communitarian; Schlein, globalist and liberal-individualist. (A century ago, being Christian or Jewish  would have been relevant; nowadays, thankfully, religion is no longer a political issue.)

If Meloni has been accused of verging toward the Far Right, Schlein can be accused of verging toward the Far Pensée Unique, the politically-correct-woke-secularist-liberal ideology that dominates our times.

Once again, Italy will be the political laboratory of Europe.

 

Neither raw nor burnt

An Inspector Søren Farrugia Intermission

Inspector Søren Farrugia is still in the anteroom, waiting to be called in by his boss who wants to talk to him about the recent murder. It seems that the powers-that-be believe that Inspector Farrugia – the last person to see the Italian Commissario Salvo Montalbano alive – should not be interrogated so quickly, as that could be intrusive and excessive. The advice given to the Police is festina lente – make haste slowly. For whereas it is true that institutions should be allowed to work, it’s also true that they should not work either too fast or too efficiently. Everything with moderation, my friend.  

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