It is with great dismay that The Shift team reads the statement signed by the editors of the Times of Malta, Malta Today and The Malta Independent claiming that The Shift has carried out “a vicious and dishonest claim” in its article published by the International Press Institute. The article is based on facts and reliable source information.
There is nothing in the text that can be credibly described as “vicious” and/or “dishonest”. If the article, which was penned by more than one author with no editorial interference, makes for uncomfortable reading by describing a real issue with Malta’s independent press, that is another matter.
The team also fails to understand why this article has caused such a knee-jerk reaction and why it has been read as if it took direct aim at the above-mentioned three newsrooms, which it did not.
Describing and acknowledging the problems independent newsrooms have faced, or might still be facing, and the adjustments to editorial policy that these problems necessitated, particularly during the pandemic, is by no means an attack.
It’s a form of introspection – something we could all beneficially indulge in more frequently. What’s more, the issue of government-funded advertising was just one of the three issues mentioned in the article.
The other two were the problem of having party-owned media outlets, and how the reporting on the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry was delayed and the consequences of that delay. One assumes that on these two points the editors mentioned above can agree.
However, the issue of lack of transparency about the allocation of government funding remains. So much so that during the public inquiry hearing on Tuesday Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino, when learning about the tiered system the government used to allocate funds, noted that “this should not be the way funds are administered”.
When the three newsrooms published their statement in a coordinated manner, the IGM President was in court confirming concerns raised by The Shift’s article. The Times of Malta report on the testimony conveniently ignored the part on COVID funds to media outlets questioned by the panel of judges, while it led with the headline ‘Daphne’s murder spurred unity among journalists’ without any sense of irony.
The Shift has never received the ‘statement’ by the IGM, nor was it published. The newsrooms have said we did not ask the questions – they’re wrong. The article was based on several Freedom of Information requests filed.
The European Parliament today adopted a resolution on strengthening media freedom: the protection of journalists in Europe, hate speech, disinformation and the role of platforms. Point C in the resolution reads:
“…whereas some Member States limit the freedom of the media through economic means, such as distorted public advertising among media outlets that alters competition, and directly control public media in order to influence editorial decisions and thus ensure pro-government loyalty; whereas public authorities should adopt a legal and regulatory framework which fosters the development of free, independent and pluralistic media;”
Point T further states:
“whereas in some Member States, State aid for media outlets has not been handled transparently, which puts these outlets’ independence and credibility at serious risk”
As these texts highlight, these issues are not ones The Shift pulled out of thin air.
Discussions at a European level underlined that funding should be managed by independent organisations in order to avoid any interference with editorial decision-making and that support should be provided only for those public and commercial media outlets that are truly independent and free from government or any other interference.
That our mediascape is unique and complicated due to party-owned media is a fact. That the government allocated close to €1 million in COVID-19 aid to help media houses is a fact. That the government has in the past used publicly funded advertising to exert pressure on newsrooms is a fact. That the current amounts allocated between newsrooms are unknown is a fact. That the terms agreed to are unknown is a fact. There is nothing dishonest about a critical appraisal of these issues.
The Shift is not throwing anyone “under a bus”. We asked a simple but difficult question and the reaction this has elicited shows just how difficult that question is and why it is so important that it is debated. It is a disservice to readers not to do so.