Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has joined MPs and government officials hitting out at journalist Ivan Camilleri following his dismissal from The Times of Malta where he had worked as the newspaper’s most senior journalist for 15 years.
Bonnici, the Minister responsible for ordering the almost daily clearing of the protest memorial to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, targeted Camilleri on social media with a post that showed a report by the Labour Party’s media and labelled the journalist “fake” – a term regularly used by those in government to discredit members of the press who have been critical of the government’s record on corruption and crime.
The Times of Malta announced the journalist’s dismissal on Friday: “This decision was taken after recent facts over a number of diverse issues were brought to the attention of the company”.
The dismissal was announced after it was revealed that he might be the journalist named as ‘Ivan’ who allegedly tipped off murder suspect Yorgen Fenech about his impending arrest. Yet Fenech’s attempted escape on his private yacht remains the subject of a great deal of speculation, even involving the former Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Camilleri said in a statement released through his lawyer that he had never discussed, spoken to or otherwise communicated with Fenech on Caruana Galizia’s assassination and that he was available to authorities to give any possible clarifications on what is being alleged in his regard.
Camilleri said he was “unequivocally and categorically denying and rebutting all the allegations made in his regard”. He insisted the allegations were “entirely unfounded in fact and at law”, adding that he would be taking all necessary legal measures to protect his reputation and challenge the unfair dismissal.
“There wasn’t, and there couldn’t have been, any reference to my client’s version of events, simply because he was not given the opportunity to rebut same allegations. This serves to effectively affirm that the decision to terminate Camilleri’s employment was taken on the basis of unfounded suppositions and allegations, and certainly not on any tangible and justifiable grounds. It becomes apparent that the company was only interested in finding some futile excuse to terminate Camilleri’s employment,” according to the statement released by lawyer Ian Spiteri Bailey.
The company failed to provide Camilleri with “fair and just treatment”. The journalist said that Allied Newspapers and its management had reached conclusions on what the company itself termed “suspicions” and “allegations” that were “not based on one single piece of evidence to sustain its allegations” before proceeding with the “illicit and illegal” termination of employment.
Other Labour MPs and government officials joined the attack by the Justice Minister, who is himself the subject of scrutiny after having enabled the government to hide the findings of the Egrant inquiry from the public for 18 months.
— Silvio Schembri (@SilvioSchembri) December 20, 2019
Junior Minister Silvio Schembri, responsible for the regulation of financial services in Malta and exposed as having submitted a false declaration of assets to parliament, also turned to social media to say, ‘Barra’ (out) – the term used by citizens protesting on almost a daily basis over the last month demanding resignations of those in government involved in corruption and crime. No action was ever taken against Schembri for submitting a false declaration to parliament.
Government spokesperson Nigel Vella, whose claim to fame was detaining Maltese and international journalists at Castille after a press briefing at 3am, took issue with Camilleri’s point that he had not been given the chance to rebut allegations made against him by his employer.
He said Camilleri had spent 15 years doing the same to the Labour Party and the government. The Labour Party has been in government for only six years. Camilleri’s reports on government abuse were also done under a Nationalist administration. And Vella still thinks he works for the Labour Party, according to his social media profile, which again shows the failure to distinguish between State and Party.
“Kull min jaqbad is-sejf, bis-sejf jinqered (live by the sword, die by the sword),” Vella said.
The government continues to miss the point that a journalist holding power accountable is necessary for a democracy. But members of government targeting journalists is the stuff of dictatorships.