A report by Freedom House on the global decline of press freedom points out that elected leaders in democratic countries have made “explicit attempts to silence critical media voices”.
It lists recommendations to policymakers in democratic countries to address this problem, “these include politicians and elected officials not verbally attacking the press and being swift to condemn acts of repression against journalists and media outlets”.
The report was published a day after three Ministers in Malta – Economy Minister Chris Cardona, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi – decided to include in their response submitted to the court, on action taken by NGO Repubblika, a page dedicated to explaining who I am and why I do what I do, naturally from their point of view.
All this, because it was this news portal that revealed the offshore accounts of those involved in the scandalous deal with Vitals Global Healthcare.
They included in this response a paragraph from the Egrant inquiry report that was not available except to people who had the full report, a group which, according to the Prime Minister under oath, did NOT include them.
Rather than address the evidence presented, the three Ministers chose to attack the journalist who published the findings, raising my past actions and decisions as though they were some sinister secret they were revealing to the courts rather than public information.
They state I “wrote articles against the Labour Party” when I worked for The Times of Malta. Wrong. These were articles on government decisions and actions. The government and its components continue to blur the lines between Party and State while ignoring the duty of the journalist to hold power to account.
Cardona had said, “if you hit us with the sword we will hit you back with an axe”. It seems his philosophy includes slashing at journalists whose job it is scrutinise government actions. These three clearly fail to realise that in a democracy, a government does not get to decide who is a journalist in the country and what a journalist is supposed to do.
I did not become a journalist under Labour’s reign. I was an activist and journalist for 20 years under a Nationalist administration. Then too, my work focused on government (not Party) decisions and actions. Ask former Environment Minister Francis Zammit Dimech what fresh hell he would wake up to every week during my time as Regional Communications and Campaigns Director for Greenpeace.
Ask former Health Minister Louis Deguara of the day he woke up to activists abseiling down St Luke’s old incinerator to draw attention to its health hazards and the fact that the government of the time had promised to shut it down years earlier. I was among those activists up there on that chimney, dangling in a hell of my own making.
My reports for The Times of Malta are a matter of public record, those I wrote under both Nationalist and Labour administrations. They show that my investigations for the newspaper include the MEP campaign expenses, when candidates from both the main Parties were held to account. It led to a commitment from both to increase transparency on budgets spent, with public declarations, one of the rare times Parties were forced to work together to agree on a matter in the public interest.
Former PN Environment Minister, George Pullicino, had acted in a similar way to how the three Ministers are acting now. He had called up my editor, mentioning my past with the international environmental organisation Greenpeace as though this was a matter that should disqualify me from questioning his actions.
My reports on the dirt going on in the aquaculture industry did not start under Labour’s rule and the fishy goings on with its chosen Fisheries Director Andreina Fenech Farrugia or the slap-in-the-face permit given to Azzopardi Fisheries to double Charles Azzopardi’s cages in a protected area. These same players were there under a Nationalist administration. I exposed their actions in my reports for The Times of Malta as I do now in my reports for this news portal. I made that point with Pullicino then, as I am doing with the three Ministers now.
Ask former Minister Austin Gatt’s spokesperson what she thought every time she saw my name in her inbox – she told me, years later. And we laughed about it because she had the decency to understand that I was doing my job. Ask Labour MEP Miriam Dalli who was one of her more regular guests as a critical voice on environmental issues under a PN government, a time when she was still ‘a journalist’ at the Labour Party’s TV station.
Those who insist on attacking me rather than giving the public answers on the evidence on the deal involving three of Malta’s public hospitals, a deal described by the Council of Europe’s Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt as “underhand” and “sinister”, have no issue with those pumping out propaganda and misinformation at their Party’s TV station – they are, of course, fine upstanding ‘journalists’. They have no issue with turning the State broadcaster into nothing more than a mouthpiece for the government – that is good behaviour, journalism of the most sterling kind.
The Labour Party has a history of targeting journalists. Its thugs burnt down The Times of Malta building on 15 October 1979. Thirty-eight years later, a day following what has become known as Black Monday, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed under its watch on 16 October 2017.
They refuse to call it “an assassination”; they even refuse to acknowledge that she was killed as a direct and obvious consequence of her work. The police have refused to question the politicians she held to account.
Caruana Galizia’s death was celebrated on the Labour Party’s once-secret online hate groups, and government officials and even Labour MPs still attempt to discredit her work with the Prime Minister himself pursuing a libel case against her posthumously.
This behavour has led the Council of Europe Special Rapporteur to note in his report adopted by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights: “Even after her death, there remains an appearance of government hostility towards Ms Caruana Galizia”.
The Freedom House report shows that violence and harassment levied against journalists had increased in 63% of countries that experienced a decrease in freedom over the last five years.
This is not the result of journalists acting as “traitors” by exposing government corruption; it is the result of government actions. No journalist, myself included, likes having to defend herself and to justify her activities because, in a truly free country, this would simply not be remotely necessary.
In a country where three Ministers act the way Mizzi, Cardona and Scicluna have chosen to, we are left with no other choice.