Reporters Without Borders has slammed a government lawyer’s assertions that The Shift’s questions about the spending of public money constitute “harassment” and “intimidation,” describing the accusations as “absolutely ludicrous”.
The press freedom organisation’s international campaign coordinator Rebecca Vincent made the statement on Twitter after government lawyer Joe Gerada demanded that the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal ban The Shift from requesting information through Freedom of Information (FOI) submissions.
The request, filed by ex-Chris Cardona aide and lawyer Joe Gerada on behalf of Projects Malta against The Shift’s founder and managing editor Caroline Muscat, cited alleged “intimidation” of public officials through systematic questioning.
“Absolutely ludicrous in a country where journalists are routinely harassed, intimidated and threatened. The Maltese government has freedom of information obligations that it must comply with, and journalists must be able to obtain public interest information to do their jobs,” Vincent said in a tweet.
Absolutely ludicrous in a country where journalists are routinely harassed, intimidated and threatened. The Maltese government has freedom of information obligations that it must comply with, and journalists must be able to obtain public interest information to do their jobs. https://t.co/uOI9eQYkRQ
— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) January 6, 2022
Gerada, the lawyer who allegedly accompanied the disgraced former minister on a trip to a German brothel known as FKK Acapulco while on a government-funded trip, had filed libel proceedings against assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia after she published multiple stories about the trip. Both Gerada and Cardona dropped their libel cases just before they were to be obliged to submit their geolocation data to the court.
In the request filed against The Shift, Gerada is seeking to block this newsroom’s attempts at using established FOI procedures to obtain information on the disbursement of public funds. The Shift has sought to obtain information on contracts and funds Gerada himself may have received, among many other FOI requests.
The extraordinary demand was made during an ongoing appeal that’s completely unrelated to Gerada’s own issues. He complained to the Appeals Tribunal that is deciding on at least 29 appeals by government entities against a decision by the Data Protection Commissioner to grant The Shift information requested through the Freedom of Information Act on payments made through public funds to Media Today co-owner Saviour Balzan.
On Tuesday, The Shift reported that, one by one, 29 government entities filed virtually identical appeals pushing back on the Commissioner’s decision to grant the information in the public interest regarding the use of public funds.