The Shift was one of the many positives that emerged from the darkness following Daphne Caruana Galizia’s horrendous assassination. In many ways, one brave lady succeeded another.
Caroline Muscat never aspired to wear the mantle worn by her close friend and mentor Daphne. However, she was determined to fill the gap left by the great investigative journalist as best she could.
Daphne’s assassination threw the country into a turmoil resulting in the political demise of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his corrupt cronies. For this, Daphne’s legacy was responsible; a legacy carried forward and executed by civil society, the mainstream independent media and some courageous and industrious individuals, not least Caroline Muscat and her The Shift.
I do not know Caroline personally. It was a pleasure to have known Daphne and I would discuss a number of issues with her; not always agreeing of course. Her pen was fierce and potent, but, perhaps surprisingly, Daphne in person was soft spoken, unassuming and actually shy. Every word she said was carefully chosen and weighted.
As a mere observer and, from what I have been told, I sense the same in Caroline – unassuming. This did not prevent her from being bestowed with a number of prestigious international awards for her contribution to the struggle for the freedom of the press in recent years.
I feel a deep satisfaction, even an honour, to have been invited to contribute my bit to commemorate the online news portal’s third anniversary. The Shift is, so to say, the latest product in the evolution of the media in Malta over the centuries.
The first printing press was established in Malta in 1642 and a freedom of the press of sorts was introduced in 1839, after a long struggle, with the strict censorship that had prevailed being abolished. The oldest existing newspaper, Times of Malta, saw its first number in 1935, while our radio and television stations emerged in the 1960s, with the airwaves being fully liberalised (and may I say let loose) later in 1991.
I happened to be a member of the Broadcasting Authority which oversaw this liberalisation and, notwithstanding my strong views on the issue, I must shoulder collective responsibility for negative results. For, as predicted and feared by many, the airwaves, the most immediate and effective source of news, have been partly taken over by the blatantly partisan bulletins emanating from the two main political parties.
We then have a state broadcasting network which has never been regulated in any proper manner, with a newsroom which is ultimately under the control of the political party in government.
Our newspapers are either partly owned or controlled by, or alternatively, depend on advertising revenue from government and public authorities (more so at a time of crisis) and large businesses, for their survival.
This does not quite make them fully independent, try as they might. As we aptly say in Maltese: La taqtax l-id li tiekol minnha (do not cut off the hand that feeds you). With the advent of the internet and subsequent online platforms, we have had the opportunity of entering the jungle of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. Comments on these platforms can hardly be regulated, not even when administrators put their best efforts to it.
It is in this context that Daphne provided a new, fresh opportunity for the dissemination of news and, yes, gossip. People just loved her as evidenced from the tens of thousands of followers on a daily basis. Of course, people hated her too; something normal with a popular, effective and no-holds-barred platform.
Her pen, for the reasons I have outlined was the only one that was free to expose unadulterated facts in search of truth and justice.
The Shift is a breath of fresh air emerging from the terrible stench of corruption and bad governance resulting in Daphne’s assassination. It follows in her tracks, and filled the void Daphne left as best it could, with its mission statement asserting:
“The Shift is an independent online news platform committed to investigative journalism and the defence of press freedom. It is also a platform for political, cultural and social commentary from civil society.”
It does not seek and indeed will not accept the support of governments and businesses. In its short life, it has been a haven, a refuge for writers of the truth and free thinkers, liberating them from the ravages of the mainstream social media.
It provides a forum free from the lies, twists and spins served out by politicians and public servants. Its investigative journalism is second to none. It holds all to account without fear or favour.
May I be allowed to borrow a couple of lines from Ryan Murdock’s contribution to commemorate the three years?
“We knew it was essential that The Shift be answerable to no one but our readers. We believed you would stand behind us if you saw us standing up for you.”
And stand behind you we will. In fact, we will continue to stand together as we did when civil society and the fourth estate brought down a Prime Minister and, with time, the main players in the tragic drama that was Malta at the time and, unfortunately, continues to be.
When I view recordings of the events which played out exactly one year ago, I get goose flesh. Until then justice seemed unattainable, so far away, out of our grasp. Then, suddenly, the government was in hiding. There is still much to be done, but as Repubblika’s excellent production ‘When they come undone‘ finishes off.
“May it happen again. If you make us go there.”
The Shift has been courageous. We have seen many attempts over the years at launching newspapers which were both truly independent and influential. They failed.
The Shift attempted this too, survived and prevails.
Austin Sammut is a lawyer, former member of the Broadcasting Authority and chairman of Malta Broadcasting Services Ltd. He worked as a journalist and a broadcaster in Malta and abroad. He contributes this article as part of The Shift’s third-anniversary campaign.