European watchdog registers threat against media freedom from Prime Minister’s staff

Social media posts by Josef Caruana, an official from the Office of the Prime Minister in Malta, have been registered as a threat to press freedom on the European Commission-funded platform monitoring the violations against press freedom in Europe.

The European project which tracks threats, violations, and limitations targeted at media workers, reported that an “official in the PM’s office smears The Shift News as ‘fake news'”. The platform categorised the threat as an act of ”intimidation, defamation, trolling/cyberbullying committed by government/State agency/public officials”.

The report equates Caruana’s harrassment to that of Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield running a blog targeting dissidents from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Josef Caruana’s harassment follows the same pattern of behaviour adopted by another former OPM official (and current ruling party MP) Glenn Bedingfield, who harassed and discredited journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia up until her death on 16 October 2017, and then continued to discredit her and harass her family after her assassination. Josef Caruana has also promoted sinister rumours implicating Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family in her assassination,” the report states.

Caruana published a number of posts on his Facebook page labelling the news portal as “fake news”, demanding an apology. The Shift made it immediately clear that he would not be getting it, reminding him of his position as a public servant.

His posts referred to an investigation undertaken by The Shift that highlighted irregularities in the way in which government ministers reported their income and government salaries. The ‘Cover Your Assets’ series found that some Ministers appeared to have under-reported their income and potentially omitted key information that they are required to provide each year.

Mapping Media Freedom notes how “this has stirred up hostility towards the news outlet, its editor and reporters.” Comments underneath Caruana’s posts included allegations that The Shift journalists write under fake names, labelling journalists as “cowards” and “liars” while Caruana himself referred to them as “pseudo-journalists”.

Muscat was awarded the Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize for Independence last month for her “refusal to back down despite heavy pressure”.

“Despite his behaviour, he has retained his post in the Prime Minister’s Office and was allowed to contest the MEP elections on the ruling Labour Party’s ticket,” the incident report notes.

Caruana was the former editor of Labour-leaning newspaper L-Orizzont, run by a union whose former boss Tony Zarb was also put on the taxpayer gravy train as government consultant whose only task seems to be targeting dissidents in regular video blogs on social media. As editor, Caruana had written editorials naming journalists, including Caruana Galizia, who should “disappear”. He was then given a job at the Prime Minister’s Office.

More than 30 threats to national and international media workers in Malta have been reported in Malta to press freedom watchdogs, the bulk being against investigative online news portal The Shift.

Caruana’s post followed an attack by three Ministers in Malta appealing a decree that they should be investigated for their involvement in the Vitals Global Healthcare deal.

They appealed the magistrate’s decision, stating the revelations were published in “a partisan news portal”, attacking The Shift’s founder and editor Caroline Muscat on a two-year investigation revealing evidence of corruption adopted in a report on rule of law in Malta by the Council of Europe was nothing more than “character assassinations”.

Mapping Media Freedom is an independent organisation which monitors press freedom in 43 European countries including EU Member States, candidates for membership and neighbouring countries. It is supported by the European Centre For Press And Media Freedom.

This is the second such report for Malta in just seven days. Last week’s entry registered a threat made against a French journalist who was filming the removal of flowers and candles at the protest memorial to Caruana Galizia in Valletta.

A Maltese man was filmed shouting at the crew of the M6 documentary on corruption on Malta, telling journalist Camille Le Pomellac “go back to your country, see the problems there.” The man then approached the camera adding, ”go away because I will kill you”.


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