Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent said the ruling by Speaker Anglu Farrugia in Parliament on Tuesday that The Shift News must amend the content of its story on disinformation related to 17 Black was a “worrying move”.
“This story should be getting more attention – a worrying, unprecedented move by Malta’s parliament to try to censor The Shift News, one of the few outlets pursuing public interest investigative reporting in the country. They deserve our support,” Vincent said on Twitter.
RSF is a leading international organisation working to defend press freedom and the safety of journalists.
The Speaker’s ruling followed a request made by Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield in Parliament the previous day. The Shift News was not informed there was a request for a ruling, nor was it ever given a chance to assert is position with regards to Bedingfield’s claims.
This was noted in The Shift News’s response to the Speaker, informing him that the content of the article will not be changed.
The Shift News stressed in its reply to the Speaker that the fact that a report or comment made in the media with regard to something said by a member of the House cannot constitute a breach of privilege simply because of parliamentary status.
“If this were the case, MPs have rights that go beyond those of the very citizens they were elected to serve, which surely is not an acceptable concept in a democratic society,” The Shift News said.
“What was written constitutes fair comment in the context of all that is happening in the country. That such comments and that commentaries and analyses are written is the very duty of journalists,” The Shift News said, referencing the story Bedingfield took issue with entitled ‘Disinformation Watch #26: Toxic Tactics on 17 Black’.
If Bedingfield felt misrepresented in any way, “he had every opportunity to avail himself of the remedies available to all citizens in the context of the media law”, which would have given this news portal the right to defend its position.
Yet, this is being disadvantaged by the fact that a decision has already been taken. Bedingfield used this to his advantage, publishing his comment on the Speaker’s ruling on social media within minutes that the ruling was given.
Following the organisation’s visit to Malta last month, RSF expressed concern that Malta was not living up to its obligation to defend press freedom.
Malta registered the largest drop in RSF’s 2018 Press Freedom Index, falling to 65th place, down 18 places from the previous year.
Related news: The Shift News reacts to the Speaker’s ruling