Joint statement in support of The Shift News as it faces a freedom of information battle with the government of Malta
We, the undersigned free expression, press freedom, and journalists’ organisations, express support for The Shift News as it faces an all-out legal battle against 40 freedom of information (FOI) lawsuits brought by 40 government entities in Malta. These appeal lawsuits pose a serious threat to the country’s already worrying freedom of information and press freedom climate. We call for these cases to be immediately dropped and for the government of Malta to fully comply with its FOI obligations going forward.
In July 2021, Malta’s Data Protection Commissioner ruled in favour of 40 FOI requests filed by independent media outlet The Shift News as part of an investigation into relations between Media Today co-owner Saviour Balzan and government entities. The Shift specifically asked for a list of all contracts and payments between companies owned by Balzan and governmental bodies, in light of the public interest need for transparency in relations between independent media and government in a troubling media landscape dominated by political party ownership.
Each of the government entities lodged identical appeals against the Data Protection Commissioner’s decisions. Eventually, all 40 decisions were appealed, naming The Shift News founder and editor Caroline Muscat, who had submitted the FOI requests. The Appeals Tribunal has so far issued 12 rulings, all in favour of The Shift and the Data Protection Commissioner. These 40 governmental bodies are now pursuing a second round of appeals against these decisions, opening up another front in an already costly legal battle.
These vexatious lawsuits seem intended not to win, but to exhaust The Shift’s time and resources, and divert the outlet’s ability to pursue public interest reporting, while also sending a clear signal to others that the Maltese government will fight media attempts to obtain information under the FOI law. Our organisations condemn these legal proceedings aimed at weakening Malta’s independent press, and call for them to be immediately dropped. The Maltese government must instead comply with its FOI obligations, and take immediate steps to improve freedom of information and press freedom in the country.
The Shift has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the high costs associated with fighting this legal battle, which can be supported by following this link.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
ARTICLE 19 Europe
Association of European Journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute (IPI)
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)