Health Ministry’s response to journalist ‘a threat to press freedom’

The Health Ministry’s response to a Maltese journalist, in which a communications aide demanded an apology or would not collaborate, was registered as a threat to press freedom by Mapping Media Freedom.

The platform is a European project that tracks threats, violations and limitations imposed on media professionals, run by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).

“On 7 August 2020, Christoph Schwaiger was repeatedly refused comment by the Ministry of Health in Malta in retaliation for his criticism of the public body.”

The Shift reported that on 18 July Schwaiger had contacted the Health Ministry for a comment for a journalistic piece he was writing about the condition of a group of migrants who arrived in Malta that month, one of whom reportedly tested positive for Covid-19.

A communications coordinator to the minister declined to give a comment on the phone, instead requesting the journalist to submit his questions via email.

Over the next weeks, he then sent the Health Ministry a number of emails requesting to interview a scientist involved in another case he was reporting. After three attempts, a member of the communications team told Schwaiger that the ministry “does not collaborate with journalists who publicly try to ridicule our staff for unfounded reasons…I take this opportunity to suggest that you excuse yourself, privately and publicly, with my colleague Roberta…”

The “ridicule” the communications aide referred to was Schwaiger’s public criticism of the public body’s failure to answer his questions. Schwaiger had previously posted on Twitter that the Ministry spokesperson had repeatedly refused to answer his questions and “hung up on him”.

The journalist said he had been “blacklisted” by the Ministry. “I stand by all my previous reporting. I expect Prime Minister Robert Abela to reverse this decision with immediate effect,” he had also posted on Twitter.

In an interview with The Shift, Schwaiger said the behaviour was symptomatic of the government’s approach to journalists and their right to demand answers.

Schwaiger also said there had been no contact from the Health Ministry to resolve the matter.

There are 47 reports from Malta registered on the portal.

Other recent threats to press freedom in Malta registered on Mapping Media Freedom include Ministers Konrad Mizzi, Chris Cardona and Edward Scicluna using “abusive language” to “threaten investigative journalism outlet” The Shift, as well as the cyberattacks against the news portal. Four threats against The Shift were filed in one year.

The site also has registered threats against journalists from The Times of Malta and Newsbook and attempts to stop journalists in Malta from reporting on migrant arrivals, as well as the incident where the press was locked inside Castille.

It records the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the attempts to silence her with libel suits as well as the latest SLAPP threat by SOCAR representative in the Electrogas deal, Turab Musayev, against five newsrooms in Malta.

                           
                               
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