MaltaToday | 10 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 10 August 2008

Red minibus operators file judicial protest against MT columnist

Co-op Services Limited, which represents red mini-buses owners and drivers, has filed a judicial protest against MaltaToday columnist Pamela Hansen and Saviour Balzan as editor of the same newspaper.
In its protest, the company claimed that part of an opinion article under the sub-title “Can’t walk and chew gum” published on 9 July 2008 with the title “Who is the Bully?” constituted an “unfair and incorrect attack” on the red minibuses’ sector in Malta.
Co-Op Services said in its judicial protest that Hansen’s article made “no attempt whatsoever to understand and appreciate in an objective manner” the red minibuses’ owners’ position regarding the sector.
On the other hand, the complainant said, Hansen chose “the easiest way out to try and please the public arena by attempting to make a caricature of a typical red minibus driver/operator and expose him to public contempt and ridicule.”
The red minibuses’ owners also claimed that in her article, Hansen described red minibus operators as “people who want to earn more money by boarding more children on their vans”.
In this respect, red minibuses’ owners claimed that they have always tried to give the best service possible to its clients, including the parents of schoolchildren, at the most reasonable prices possible.
This, they said, despite the fact that the operators are facing “huge problems in view of the ever-increasing financial burdens, including the price of diesel”.
They also took offence to Hansen’s description of red mini-bus drivers as incompetent and “the ones with a bad safety record.”
In this respect, red minibuses’ owners claimed that they have been asking the authorities to allow them to insure with private insurance companies and not insure with the Motor Insurance Pool, which collectively insures other transport sectors.
They said that their premia were compensating for the claims made by other transport sectors insured with the Motor Insurance Pool. They said the Government should have taken this factor into consideration when it announced that it wanted to liberalise the transport sector.
In its protest, Co-op Services Limited said that Hansen’s final comment about red-mini-bus drivers who “cannot walk and chew gum, let alone drive children to school and back safely” was unacceptable since it was made with the sole intent of ridiculing red minibuses’ operators.
Lawyer Chris Cilia filed the judicial protest on behalf of Co-op Services Limited.

Pamela Hansen replies:
In my piece entitled “Can’t walk and chew gum” on July 9, I was merely referring to what the mini bus co-operative chairman, Charles Mercieca, was reported as saying to a Times reporter. It was not an investigative feature.
I would suggest that any interested party read the whole item, since things are easily taken out of context.
The judicial protest gives an edited version: “red minibus drivers... are the ones with a bad safety record”, of what I wrote.
The crucial word “maybe” as well as the preceding sentence was left out, giving a different interpretation to what I wrote, which was:
“If the allegation of discrimination (by the police towards the mini bus drivers) is correct, the police and wardens should be as diligent with other school transport providers.
“Then again maybe the police are more vigilant with the red mini bus drivers because they are the ones with a bad safety record.”
As to the interpretation that they are only in the business for the money, I quoted Mr Mercieca
“We are doing something about it (installing seat belts) not because we are operating illegally but because we do not want to lose market share”. I therefore feel that my, “Yes, well we all know where their priorities lie” was fair comment.
As to “can’t walk and chew gum”, I again feel that was fair comment to Mr Mercieca’s claim that mini bus drivers cannot ensure the children in their care are wearing seatbelts while concentrating on their driving.

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