Mapping Media Freedom, a European project that tracks threats and violations against the press, has registered as a press freedom threat the Speaker’s denial of access to MPs’ tax declarations for The Shift’s journalists.
The tax declarations of MPs are supposed to be available to all members of the press. Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia turned down the request on the grounds that the online portal was not listed in the press registry, based on a law that has in fact been repealed.
The Shift has objected to this decision and sent a letter to the two parliamentary Whips of both sides of the House saying this decision is in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to the provisions of the Media and Defamation Law introduced in April 2018, media houses do not need to register with the Department of Information (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. The registry itself, which should have been abolished, is only open to newspaper editors which excludes online news portals.
Mapping Media Freedom, which is run by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), has registered the issue under the ‘blocked access to information’ category. There are currently 56 registered reports concerning freedom of the press in Malta.
A number of prominent press freedom organisations, including the International Press Institute (IPI), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have publicly expressed their support of The Shift’s stand and called on the Speaker to stop this discrimination.
“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 access to the MPs’ tax declarations immediately,” said RSF’s Head of European Desk Pavol Szalai.
A similar sentiment was expressed by the Secretary General of one of the largest international union of journalists, the EFJ’S Ricardo Gutierrez, who said the Maltese authorities must prioritise transparency and guarantee access to public documents.
This is not the first incident involving The Shift registered by Mapping Media Freedom. In 2020, The Shift received a letter from the legal representatives of Croatian Kristijan Curavic, the man behind the idea of the White Flag scheme, demanding the sum of €300,000 to appease a claim for damages. Another threat was by former GWU Head and consultant to the governing Labour Party Tony Zarb who called The Shift’s journalists “political terrorists”, as well as Josef Caruana calling news reports “fake” from the Office of the Prime Minister. The threats also include three ministers – Chris Cardona, Konrad Mizzi and Edward Scicluna – against The Shift when attempting to stop a magisterial inquiry into wrongdoing based on evidence exposed by this news portal during its investigation on the hospitals’ deal.
Ironically, one of the threats is registered as having been committed by Speaker Anglu Farrugia himself when, in 2018, he issued a ruling ordering The Shift to amend and remove sections from an article analysing the links between senior members of the governing Labour Party and an offshore company, 17 Black, that is currently under police investigation. The Shift refused.
The Speaker’s ruling then recognised The Shift as a news portal, in direct contradiction to the Speaker’s decision now not to allow access to MPs’ tax declarations because its journalists aren’t recognised by the government.