Debunking statements made by OPM staff in a public inquiry

The public inquiry sitting on Monday focused on incidents that impinge on media freedom by staff at the Office of the Prime Minister. Head of Government Communications Matthew Carbone denied having kept journalists hostage at Castille and said he was unaware that journalists at The Shift were refused entry to government events.

OPM communications staff Josef Caruana played with words and shrugged off responsibility for posting vociferous social media posts about government critics while assuming a position at OPM.

The facts refute the claims.

1. “As far as I know, the journalists were in no way locked in” – Matthew Carbone

This statement by Carbone with regards to the incident in the early hours of 29 November contradicts testimonies and videos by members of the media that were kept hostage inside a room at  Castille following a press conference by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Members of the media have also filed police reports regarding the incident since then.

Carbone argued that journalists not being allowed to leave the Ambassador’s Hall until Muscat had been escorted to safety was “standard procedure”. Journalists present in the courtroom laughed.

However, the crux of the argument was that the unidentified men in plain clothes, who lined the locked doors and refused to provide journalists with information about their identity, were preventing the media from leaving, as is clearly portrayed in the videos taken at the incident.

Carbone reluctantly agreed to give the names of the men who refused to let the journalists leave – some in the customer care department, a messenger at OPM, and some who formed part of the lighting or supplies team. He could not name all the men. Yet, they have been identified.

2. “I am unaware of instances when The Shift journalists were refused entry to government events” – Matthew Carbone, Head of Government Communications

The Head of Government Communications reiterated a statement made by the Department of Information who said that “the Department has never denied an Access Card for government events to any media organisation, registered or not.”

The Shift was denied access to Republic Day events in December 2019 when the President’s Office insisted that journalists must apply for a government Access Card for approval before a further layer of approval by the President’s Office. The correspondence is being published below.

An international press card is valid in any country. The additional layers required for access to government press conferences and other events are those imposed by the government in Malta.

3. “I am a person of trust, not a public official” – OPM staff Josef Caruana

When asked about whether he thinks it’s right to be sharing specific posts on social media attacking government critics seeing as he works at OPM, Caruana played with words and told the board that he is “not a public official” but “a person of trust”.

After making that statement, Caruana was asked by Caruana Galizia family lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia as to who pays his salary at the end of the day, to which he replied “the government”, which makes him subservient to the people not the Party. 

During his testimony, Caruana was also questioned about an editorial that he wrote in June 2017 while editor of Labour-leaning newspaper L-Orizzont, which is owned by the General Workers Union, where he named and called out journalists reporting on government corruption to be expelled from the country. “From my perspective, those journalists used to cause harm,” he said.

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