Probes into Kulhadd partisan supplement requested following The Shift’s report

Following a report by The Shift, Civil society NGO Repubblika has written to the Auditor General and to the Commissioner for Standards, asking them to probe a partisan newspaper supplement costing €20,000 in taxpayer money.

On Thursday, this newsroom reported that a partisan 32-page newspaper supplement published by the Labour Party to commemorate Robert Abela’s first two years as Labour leader has cost taxpayers at least €20,000.

The supplement, published by Labour’s official weekly newspaper Kullħadd on 16 January, included 28 full page advertorials by 19 different government ministries and parliamentary secretariats, all forking out between €700 and €1,800 each in payments for partisan adverts in the publication.

In its letter to the Auditor General, Repubblika slammed the incident as “a threat to freedom of expression” and as misuse of public funds.

The group highlighted that the same publicity was not present in other media – meaning that the expenditure was “exclusively and directly” given to the Government’s political party. This, it said, made it “reasonable to conclude” that this type of publicity is “an illegitimate transfer of public money”.

It deemed the way the money was spent “wasteful” since the typical reader of Labour Party media is a government sympathiser and an admirer of the government’s initiatives.

Repubblika noted that, currently, the government has absolute discretion in seeing how and where such advertising happens, and that it has “so far refused” to follow models and criteria used by other governments on how public funds should be spent on publicity.

With such discretion, the government rewards those who support it and punishes those who do not, it added.

“This constitutes a threat to freedom of expression and misuse of public funds – as it means that the government, which is obliged to inform everyone about its actions and initiatives despite their preferred modes of communication, also needs to communicate with those who don’t read Kulħadd, but prefer to read other media ,” the group said.

“The absolute lack of stable procedure and objective criteria… is allowing a waste, if not a theft, of public funds”.

Forwarding the email to the Standards Commissioner, the group asked Commissioner George Hyzler to examine whether this expenditure on Labour Party media breaks the ethical requirements of Ministers to avoid conflicts of interests that mix their role in government with their membership in the Labour Party.

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