The Shift’s FOI battle registered as ‘violation’ by press freedom watchdog

The unprecedented Freedom of Information (FOI) battle involving 30 government entities that The Shift is currently facing has been registered as a ‘violation’ by European press freedom watchdog Mapping Media Freedom.

This is the second violation in connection with the challenge that was registered in a matter of weeks by the platform, that tracks violations, threats and risks faced by media professionals.

The violation is registered as an incident related to censorship and blocked access to information.

In January, 30 different government ministries and entities appealed against a decision by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner which ordered the disclosure of information on public expenditure requested through an FOI request submitted by The Shift.

International media freedom organisations said the coordinated attempt to block the disclosure on a matter of public interest had serious implications for transparency and media freedom and was emblematic of wider challenges for journalists trying to access public information in Malta.

The appeals stem from FOI requests that The Shift’s editor, Caroline Muscat, sent to various public bodies which sought documents about possible contracts and payments made by public entities to Malta Today co-owner Saviour Balzan and his commercial entities.

The entities, including the Education Ministry, the Gozo Ministry, Identity Malta and Projects Malta (Malta Strategic Partnership Projects), responded by filing virtually identical appeals against the decision to release this information.

The information The Shift had requested is in the public interest and concerns the administration of public funds.

As Data Commissioner Ian Deguara pointed out in defence of his decision, the FOI act is “designed to ensure the greatest possible transparency and promote accountability in public authorities, by enabling to the extent possible, the exercise of the right of access to documents held by the public authorities”.

“The fact that persons and companies are being paid by public funds certainly leads to the expectation that the public has to know where money went, to whom, and why,” he said.

In light of this fight, The Shift has launched a GoGetFunding fundraising campaign, titled ‘Our fight for the right to access public information’, for which it has collected almost €9,000 at the time of writing.

Sixty-nine press freedom threats have been registered in Malta over the past seven years.

                           
                               
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saviour mamo
saviour mamo
3 months ago

Under this government we have to keep fighting for our rights even if we have to face prison..

viv
viv
3 months ago

30 government agencies, identical instructions, all lined up… primed to roll over a single, independant news body…
It can only evoke one image.

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