In the lead to up to the second anniversary of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination where the Maltese government’s failure to deliver justice is in focus, Reporters Without Borders condemned the intensification of threats against independent news outlets.
The international press freedom watchdog said in a statement that the threats were focused in particular on The Shift, whose founder Caroline Muscat was recently awarded the RSF press freedom award for independence.
The latest report registered by press freedom watchdogs on 5 October refers to an attack from a member of the communications staff at the Office of the Prime Minister in Malta, Josef Caruana, who published posts on his social media, smearing The Shift’s investigative reporting as “fake news” and demanding an apology. The news portal stood by its story.
It followed further attacks by three government Ministers who appealed a magisterial decree that they should be investigated by stating the revelations were published in “a partisan news portal”, attacking its founder Caroline Muscat.
“The tactics used to whip up hate against Daphne Caruana Galizia to discredit and marginalise her continue to be repeated by those in power against all those who try to inform and establish the truth,” says Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of the EU-Balkan desk of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
A Maltese judge, Giovanni Grixti, blocked an investigation into the actions of the three Ministers in the deal amid controversy, even stating that investigations by the press were insufficient evidence for an inquiry. The Judge defined the findings of press investigations as a “collection of opinions by journalists and bloggers who chose to join forces to expose as fact that the four suspects had devised a plan to award the hospitals’ contract to VGH, in order to benefit those involved in the deal”.
RSF pointed out: “The Maltese government must understand the role of the press is not a concession granted to those who favour it, but a right upheld in any real democracy for journalists to hold power to account.”
The Council of Europe’s Special Rapporteur has stressed that an independent and impartial public inquiry was essential to stem the tide. He expressed doubts on whether the terms of reference and the members of the Board of Inquiry chosen by the Prime Minister could achieve justice.
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.
Malta is ranked 77th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 32 places over the past two years.
Reporters Without Borders will be launching a report ‘Justice Delayed: The Assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Malta’s Deteriorating Press Freedom Climate’ in Valletta, Malta on 15 October at 11.30am at the University of Malta’s Valletta Campus.