Norman Vella awarded €15,000 in compensation over unfair dismissal

Employment Commission rules former TVM presenter Norman Vella’s secondment to the State broadcaster had been revoked for political reasons

Norman Vella (left) with his lawyer Karol Aquilina (right)
Norman Vella (left) with his lawyer Karol Aquilina (right)

Former TVM presenter Norman Vella’s secondment to the State broadcaster had been revoked for political reasons, the Employment Commission has ruled.

The court described the decision as “unjustifiable in a truly democratic society.”

The Commission handed down judgement in the unfair dismissal case Vella had filed against the Prime Minister and Principal Permanent Secretary in 2013.

Vella, an immigration officer, had been seconded to the national broadcaster where he worked on a number of television productions, as well as hosting his own show, but this arrangement had been terminated soon after the Labour Party came to government.

The judgement contains excerpts of the relevant parts of witness testimony before the Tribunal. Among them is that of former PBS CEO Anton Attard, who described Vella as a very competent producer and presenter, on a program that was doing well in Broadcasting Authority viewership surveys.

TVM presenter Peppi Azzopardi had testified about how both Kurt Farrugia, Labour’s Director of Communications at the time and Joseph Muscat had complained about a perceived anti-Labour bias in Vella’s programs.

That was the real reason behind the revocation of his secondment, said the Employment Commission.

“The Commission is factually and morally convinced that the decision in question had not been based on the requirements of the Police and that therefore the reason given for the revocation, that is that it had been ‘demand driven,’ was not proven. To the contrary, it was proven that the reason had been a different one, aimed at stopping the bias being shown by the applicant against the Labour Party.”

Reading out the final paragraph of the judgement in open court on Wednesday, the Tribunal’s chairman, Frank B. Testa, said it was rejecting the defendants’ arguments and declared that the revocation of Vella’s deployment to PBS “had been done for political reasons which is unacceptable in a democratic society.”

The Tribunal awarded Vella €15,000 in compensation and ordered the defendants to also pay Vella’s costs in the case.

The case

Vella was employed as a border control officer at Malta International Airport but had been granted five years’ unpaid leave to work in broadcasting, where he had hosted discussion programs on PBS, Malta’s national broadcaster.

Between 2006 and 2012, Vella had been employed by Where’s Everybody as a producer on popular shows Xarabank and Bijografiji, before moving to TVM in 2012, where he hosted the daily current affairs program TVHemm.

After Labour’s victory in the 2013 general election, Vella was redeployed to the airport.

He claims the redeployment was an act of political discrimination, due to his support of the Nationalist Party. Vella had later gone on to unsuccessfully contest the European elections on the PN ticket.

The Commission had also heard TV presenter Peppi Azzopardi and former Head of government communications Kurt Farrugia confirm they had been present during an incident recounted during Vella’s testimony where, before coming to power in 2013, disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat had told him that “for every blow that we feel you (plural) are landing on the Labour Party, I will give you two, with all my strength, below the belt, where it hurts.”


On 27 October, 2013, just days after proceedings before the Employment Commission had started, police officers had arrested Vella while he was on duty at the airport. The reason for his arrest, subsequently found to be spurious by Magistrate Marse-Ann Farrugia, was an allegation that he had taken a photo of Kurt Farrugia and Labour Party President Ramona Attard before they caught a flight at the airport and sent it to Daphne Caruana Galizia. The existence of the photograph was never proven and the court ruled that there had been no grounds for reasonable suspicion that Vella had committed a crime.

During the course of the proceedings before the Employment Commission, former PBS CEO John Bundy had testified that Silvio Scerri, the Chief of Staff at the Home Affairs Ministry had “personally intervened” to ensure that Vella was removed from PBS and sent back to his airport job.

Scerri had denied the allegations and filed libel proceedings against Bundy, which were dismissed by the presiding magistrate, who ruled that Bundy’s testimony was factual and had been corroborated by documentary evidence. Bundy had been represented in those proceedings by lawyer Robert Abela, now prime minister.

In July 2013, the Office of the Prime Minister had declared that Vella’s removal from PBS was because TVHemm was going to be discontinued that summer. However, during the proceedings before the Employment Commission, the defendants had exhibited a letter explaining that Vella had been redeployed because he was “essential” to the immigration section at the airport. Kurt Farrugia told the Commission that the initial explanation had been made in error.

The prime minister and principal permanent secretary did not bring forward any witnesses to support their defence.