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ERG claims GRA consultation has ‘fallen short’

The Equality Rights Group has questioned the decision of the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority to reject a GSD request to amend the broadcasting code to allow its leader, the unelected Keith Azopardi, the right of reply to ministerial statements.

The decision has fallen seriously short, the ERG said in a statement.

The code gives the Leader of the Opposition in parliament the right to reply to ministerial statements and so-called ‘national interest’ broadcasts, something which the GSD said left Mr Azopardi, currently unelected, at a disadvantage in terms of his right to reply as party leader.

But the GRA disagreed with that position, as did other political parties and independent MPs.

The ERG has now written to the Chief Executive of the GRA with its views and has urged the Authority to appreciate that the questions raised by the consultation underline vital issues regarding democratic representation and the role of the media in Gibraltar.

“This merited sounder treatment by the Authority, but, despite its claims on page one of its published concluding ‘statement’, there was nothing ‘public’ about the exercise undertaken,” the Group said in a statement.

“The bottom line is that we are dealing with wide-reaching important social implications here which far transcend an individual right, crucially significant as that is, nonetheless.”

The ERG added that the consultation exercise has been “seriously lacking on various counts” pointing to the complete reliance on a severely limited definition of who the GRA understood to be ‘stakeholders’ on the question of democratic representativity.

“While there is a rightful role for the views of those already consulted by the GRA to have been duly heard, for the Authority to have limited its reflections to those it so narrowly and exclusively defined to be ‘the stakeholders’ - the State Broadcaster, GBC, and mainly parliamentarians in political competition with Mr Azopardi and his political party - is almost tantamount, in this case, to consulting the wolf on the future of Red Riding Hood.”

“And yet it is the public at large whose vested interest in democracy should be paramount in a consultation as vital as this.”

“This matter is by no means settled,’ the ERG said adding: “The legitimacy of the GRA’s adjudication will remain alive to doubt as things currently stand, and we have requested the GRA, in both the public interest (but also in its own) to run an extension to the consultation, with a methodologically more rigorous and corrective approach and which does, on this occasion, allow for public participation.”

“The principle that justice must not only be done but seen to be done cannot be brushed aside without consequences.”

“Indeed, it is disappointing to note how the GRA, a statutory public body with an assumed requirement of professional rigour, could have overlooked the vital and wide social importance to the public interest and democracy in Gibraltar that equitable access and representation in our media must play.”

“This wider and democratically far more important stake holding cannot be ignored or cast aside, as has happened.”

"It cannot be excluded from the consultation Dr. Azopardi has stimulated through his request for a review of the relevant sections of the Broadcasting Code."

"Just as our Constitution is not set in aspic but must remain a living document that develops along with the expectations of society across time, the GRA must also be moulded by a like context as Gibraltar develops,’ the statement ends.

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