International press freedom organisations have called on Speaker Anglu Farrugia to stop the discriminatory access granted to journalists to access the tax declarations of Members of Parliament, saying this was a “serious undermining” of public interest journalism that weakens transparency.
Major international organisations, including the International Press Institute (IPI), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have expressed support for The Shift’s objection to being denied access to information that should be in the public domain.
RSF’s Head of European Desk Pavol Szalai insisted that the right to information cannot be applied selectively. “I call on speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia to stop discriminating against The Shift News under administrative pretext, comply with the law and grant the media access to the MPs’ tax declarations immediately.”
The General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists Ricardo Gutierrez expressed the union’s support for The Shift, adding the Maltese authorities must prioritise transparency and guarantee access to public documents.
— Ricardo Gutiérrez (@Molenews1) February 23, 2021
The International Press Institute (IPI) also joined in the support calling on the Speaker of the House to respect press freedom and grant The Shift News access to the tax declarations of the Maltese MPs, saying, “repeated refusal is seriously undermining public interest journalism, weakening transparency”.
#Malta: @MaltaGov, Speaker of House Angelo Farrugia must respect #pressfreedom and immediately grant @TheShiftNews access to MP's tax declarations. Repeated refusal is seriously undermining pubic interest journalism, weakening transparency. @muscatcar
— IPI – The Global Network for Press Freedom (@globalfreemedia) February 23, 2021
The Shift News has sent a letter to the Speaker of the House pointing out that the refusal to allow access to the tax declarations of MPs to its journalists is in clear violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The letter, which was also sent to the parliamentary Whips of the two political parties, came after a request by The Shift to access tax declarations – available to members of the press – was rejected.
Speaker Farrugia denied the request based on an email sent by the Department of Information (DOI) that falls under the Prime Minister’s Office. The email, penned by DOI chief Paul Azzopardi, informed the Speaker’s Office that “the press registry has no entries regarding Ms Caroline Muscat being registered as Editor of The Shift News”.
According to the provisions of the Media and Defamation Law, introduced with great pomp by the Labour government in April 2018, media houses do not need to register with the DOI.
The Shift is refusing to comply with a requirement that goes against the law. While the DOI states that registration is “voluntary”, news organisations are excluded if they do not comply.