You have to be thick skinned to be a politician and unsavoury attacks come with the turf. However the accusation that Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, had exercised censorship came not from a local political rival or hack but a respected TV journalist and was aired on Channel 4 TV in the UK.
The man making the accusation was Channel Four’s Kwame Kwei-Armah who accuses Caruana of attempting to “exercise censorship in the programming” of “On Tour with the Queen”. The last of the four episodes were broadcast on Monday night and the programme retraces the steps of Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 Commonwealth Tour.
This episode dealt with the Queen’s visits to Libya, Malta and Gibraltar. Channel Four argues that Spain saw the Queen’s visit to Gibraltar as a deliberate provocation. This sparked anti-British riots in Spain, started Franco’s campaign against the Rock culminating in the closure of the border with Gibraltar for 16 years in 1969.
Kwei-Armah had arranged to interview the chief minister but when he announced he was going to interview a Spanish journalist to get a view from the other side, the chief minister’s office called him to say that if he wanted to speak to a Spaniard, he would not be able to interview Mr Caruana.
Hence Kwei-Armah referred to the threat in the programme observing he had been all over the world, including some African countries, and the only place where any attempt at censorship had been made was in European Gibraltar.
The Opposition says Caruana is being accused in the Channel 4 programme of placing pre-conditions on a journalist in order to agree to be interviewed over the events of 1954. It observes: “His attempt at curtailing the freedom of the press led the journalist to openly state, when the programme was aired, that there exists in Gibraltar censorship of the press.
“The journalist from Channel 4 thought it might be a good idea to interview someone in Spain who was around at the time, but was categorically told that if he did this, Peter Caruana would refuse to be interviewed. The journalist also claims that by co-incidence, two other people from Gibraltar who were to be interviewed cancelled their appointment when this happened. He clearly thinks they were got at.
“This time, Peter Caruana's bullying approach towards the media in order that his views alone get covered, have been seen for what it is. He has given Gibraltar the image of a banana republic and in one stroke helped the campaign against Gibraltar orchestrated by sections of the Spanish media which already depict us as if we were a banana republic. It appears that because he gets away with pressurising some journalistic institutions locally, something the Opposition has already highlighted on innumerable occasions, he thinks he can also do this to professionals coming from abroad who are experts in recognising the kind of despotism displayed by Peter Caruana.”
The Chief Minister of Gibraltar is always the alpha male ape on the Rock. The problem is that when the tactics used against local political rivals and the media carry over in to the wider world respected international journalists will go bananas leaving the Chief Minister of the day in danger of looking a stupid monkey.