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14th May 2021, 19:01

Opposition parties & ERG question decision to bar GBC from filming inside hospital during pandemic - despite Government engaging private film company

The Government says a decision not to allow GBC to film inside St Bernard's Hospital during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year was based on clinical advice, not political reasons - accusing the GSD of politicising the issue in a cynical and calculated manner.

This comes after the leaders of Gibraltar's two Opposition parties questioned the decision not to allow GBC to film inside the hospital, following a report by the GBC Newsroom. The report stated that while the Newsroom was repeatedly refused access, the Government mooted plans to contract a private company and "issue vetted images to the media", as GBC has seen in writing.

In a piece broadcast on Viewpoint and published online on Thursday evening, the Newsroom stated that COVID-19 was the biggest event it had ever covered, and that it felt viewers deserved to see sensitively-filmed footage of the wards in St Bernard's Hospital as part of its reports on the crisis in Gibraltar earlier this year. Instead, the Government repeatedly declined to grant GBC access to film this, with verbal explanations given that this was on the grounds of infection control and patient privacy - but the Health Ministry made a proposal to senior GHA staff for a private company to film in the COVID ICU and wards, with health professionals discussing ways to mitigate these same risks.

Together Gibraltar leader Marlene Hassan Nahon tweeted after Viewpoint that questions must be answered on the Government's vetting of media via a private company, while forbidding access to Gibraltar's broadcaster during the COVID-19 crisis at the hospital.

This sentiment was echoed by the GSD, which issued a statement saying this amounted to "shocking" manipulation of the media and news given to the public, raising deep questions as to state interference and control of the debate on any issue of public interest. The GSD also contrasted the fact that public health authorities were prepared to consider allowing a private media crew access to the facilities with the refusal to allow unvaccinated people access to see loved ones even if they wear PPE and test negative for COVID. Opposition Leader, Keith Azopardi, described the Government as "obsessed with spin and control of the air waves".

And, Chair of the Equality Rights Group, Felix Alvarez, called on the Government and Opposition parties to make concrete commitments to building a future for the media where the resources are as far distanced from dependence on any administration as possible. The ERG described freedom of the press as vital to a free and open democracy.