Today I learn, from Panorama, that the Board of GBC has decided that "...having particular regard to Section 111(3)(i) of the Governor in Council's Directions to GBC dealing with political broadcasts and Section (3)(5) dealing with Fair Balance, the Board has decided, in its discretion, to grant the Opposition the broadcast requested ."
I cannot say that I am surprised. I wrote about this topic, before the decision was made, in the piece "Does the GSLP/Lib Alliance have the Will to Win?" (21 October). In that piece I questioned the fact that the GSLP/Lib alliance had not objected to the very concept of allowing Ministerial Statements. I said further that if these were permitted under the Directions then undoubtedly a right of reply by the Opposition must also exist or be the fair and democratic way for GBC to behave.
The basis and grounds upon which the broadcast of the Ministerial Statement was permitted still remain unknown. Is it permitted by the Directions? I should add quickly, before I am accused of crusading against the Chief Minister, that this is not a criticism of the Chief Minister or the GSD Government, such broadcasts have been permitted of other governments in the past. It would be of benefit if at least the basis of that decision, who took it and in what circumstances it was taken were to be made public.
What I am aware of is that the initial refusal to allow the Opposition a reply was premised on the grounds that they should do so in one of their allocated Party Political Broadcasts. If that were to have been how it should have been done, why was the same rule not applied to the Government? I can only speculate that the reason was that the contents of the Ministerial Statement were considered to be non-party partisan but rather a statement by the Government (as opposed to the governing party).
I do not necessarily accept that this logic and argument is the correct applicable criteria but applying the same logic and argument, Her Majesty's Opposition for Gibraltar should have been given an equal, fair and contemporaneous opportunity to reply. Instead we get the Board taking a decision. Did the Board authorise the broadcast of the Ministerial Statement or was it the executive of GBC?
The basis of their decision is said to be the Direction applying to "... political broadcast ..." one assumes this refers to party political broadcast, in which case why was the Opposition told to use a party political broadcast to reply? Logic dictates that it must have been because the Government equally used one of theirs. If it did not then these Directions are not applicable to either. What are the true facts of what happened? In addition, the Board say that it is the exercise of a "discretion" by them. Was it them who exercised a discretion to allow the Ministerial Statement to be broadcast? This is unknown also. It all seems a very odd carry on.
One of the unwelcome and irreparable effects of these events is delay. The Ministerial Statement was made some two weeks ago. The Panorama says that the date of the reply is yet to be announced. Any reply ceases to have some relevance because it is no longer contemporaneous and events have moved on in the time that has elapsed. The news media and especially GBC are essential elements of democracy in Gibraltar. These types of events undermine the effectiveness of the check and balance that should be provided by an independent news media in a democracy. There are few enough checks and balances in Gibraltar already so the diminution of one is a serious matter.
Lessons should be learnt from these events and steps taken to avoid a repetition in the same or similar circumstances. One major advance would be if the Governor in Councils' Directions were to be made public. At least in that way transparency would be achieved on how an independent corporation such as GBC takes decisions that have a political element to them. This will help safeguard GBC also from the criticism that it is not as independent from Government as it should be, a criticism that is often levied against GBC.