MediaToday owner Saviour Balzan received a €19,200 direct order to provide consultancy on media and communications strategy from Edward Zammit Lewis when he was the Minister for European Affairs and Equality in late 2019, according to information published in the Government Gazette.
Balzan, the owner of Malta Today, was given the direct order in September 2019 and covers a period of one year. The direct order tops other contracts he got for providing public relations services to the government through another company he runs – Business to Business Ltd – using Malta Today’s resources while also exploiting his privileged position on PBS to sustain his promotional efforts.
Balzan was the only member of an independent newsroom in Malta to be permitted programmes on the public broadcaster as press investigations increasingly focused on government links to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, whom Balzan had branded as “The Queen of Bile”.
This is not the first time that Balzan received thousands of euros from a government facing criticism in order to provide consultancy on media and public relations. A report by journalist Jacob Borg for The Times of Malta had revealed that at the peak of the controversial Central Link project in Attard, Balzan’s company had received a €16,800 direct order to counter public opposition, this time granted by Transport Minister Ian Borg.
Balzan was also involved in PR stunts carried out for Electrogas, the power station project mired in controversy over the involvement of director Yorgen Fenech in commissioning the assassination.
Times of Malta had quoted leaked emails showing Balzan had agreed to run a ‘controlled interview’ about the new power station at a time when the project was facing huge criticism over missed deadlines. The interview was carried on his TVM programme ‘Extra’, which he still presents till this day.
He was also the one to grant Michelle Muscat, the wife of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, an interview following the conclusion of the Egrant inquiry report – at the time, the publication of findings was limited to what Muscat had permitted from an inquiry that was set according to his own terms.
What Michelle Muscat had said following Caruana Galizia’s assassination, without being contested by Balzan, was: “When I heard the news about what happened to her, I think I was more sorry than her own family. Her family could go on to make her a saint; but at the time I said to myself: ‘Now I will have to live with her lies’. I want her alive”.
Her comment was slammed by the journalist’s three children, with Matthew Caruana Galizia saying it was an “astonishing, revolting quote”.
‘When I heard the news about what happened to her, I think I was more sorry than her own family.’
What. The. Hell.
— Matthew Caruana Galizia (@mcaruanagalizia) July 28, 2018
Following revelations by the independent media showing Caruana Galizia’s death being linked to the government, Balzan said that he felt “remorse” and that he had been “used”. Yet he continued to accept direct orders from the government he claims had ‘betrayed’ him.
When he was recently called to testify before the public inquiry looking into the assassination of journalist Caruana Galizia, he was specifically asked to explain the call logs which confirmed that he and disgraced former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri had a phone conversation on the day the Egrant story was made public in 2017 – another fact that the journalist had revealed about Balzan’s involvement with the government.
During his testimony before the public inquiry, Balzan admitted that he was in France when he tweeted that he could “confirm” that there was no safe with documents related to Egrant in the kitchen of Pilatus Bank – a statement that attempted to discredit Caruana Galizia’s report when he had no access to premises by relying on what of members of the government had told him while he was on holiday.
Balzan posted his Tweet soon after the post on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s report, despite not even being in the country. “There is no safe in Pilatus Bank kitchen I can confirm”, he wrote.
He told the board of inquiry he had believed former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who had told him he swore on his children’s lives that the Egrant story was ‘a fairytale’.
Yet, the version of events Balzan put forward were put in question once the full findings of the inquiry were published in full as a result of efforts by former Opposition Leader Adrian Delia in court.