Media Freedom Rapid Response reports violation against The Shift journalist by court official

An international media freedom violation tracker has sounded the alarm after a journalist from The Shift was harassed by a court security officer in August of this year.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), organised by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, reports on threats, attacks, and violations against journalists and media workers, throughout Europe.

The alert relates to an attack on The Shift journalist Julian Delia on 5 August 2021. Delia was ordered by a supposed court security officer to hand over his mobile phone and delete the photos he had taken outside the court in the capital of Valletta. The officer accused Delia of filming people entering and exiting the court without asking their permission.

Delia was taking photos of a symbolic protest organised by local NGOs that just happened to be in the court’s vicinity. When accused by the official, he said he was a journalist and was not taking photos of people entering the court.

He added if any faces were captured on his images, he would blur them out.

This was not enough for the officer, who again demanded he hands over the device, and threatened him with police action. A police officer was then summoned but refused to act. The official continued to demand the footage, but Delia refused.

The Shift filed a formal complaint with the Justice Ministry and the court agency CEO. The Ministry did not respond, and the CEO of the court agency falsely claimed that Delia was taking photos of the Courts Services Agency staff while on the premises of the Courts of Justice.

This was not the case as Delia was not on court property, was not taking photos of faces, and had not taken pictures of employees. The Shift’s legal team noted in a statement to MFFR that legal restrictions prohibiting filming and photographing on court premises do not apply to activities outside of the courts or the accidental capture of individuals entering or exiting the court.

“Contrary to the assertion made by the unnamed ‘chief security officer’, Mr Julian Delia was carrying out his journalistic duties outside the precincts of the courts… covering the protest that was taking place. President Emerita Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca was among the protesters… My clients are fully aware of the restrictions on their activities when such are intended to take place within the precincts of the court,” lawyer Andrew Borg-Cardona told the court services agency.

He added that if what they said was true, all the main photos of politicians and advocates entering court over the years show that the ‘chief security officer’ may have been rather negligent in the past.

This is far from Malta’s first brush with the MFRR platform, having registered 66 alerts to date. Recent alerts include the spoof calls, emails, and websites set up over the summer, seemingly targeting several journalists and media platforms.

Messages included calls to “stop reporting on the spoof campaign, Yorgen Fenech, and Simon Mercieca. Stop writing about them. I hope you understood our message.”

Other instances included calls appearing to come from a legitimate number but actually being an impersonator on the other end of the line.

Another attack listed on the platform was from Nevile Gafa against Italian journalist  Nello Scavo. Gafa, a former official in the office of disgraced ex-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, called Scavo a “coward” and tried to discredit his work reporting on refugee and migrant flows from Libya, one of Gafa’s supposed holiday destinations.

In recent reports concerning The Shift, the refusal to give the portal access to MPs’ tax declarations was also reported. Under Maltese law, journalists are allowed access to MPs’ tax records, but a request from The Shift was refused because it is not registered on the Maltese “press registry”.

The Shift argued there is no legal requirement for media houses to register as such; therefore, the reason given for withholding the information had no grounds.

                           
                               
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