PEN Malta latest press freedom group to support The Shift’s fight for public information

Freedom of Expression advocacy group PEN Malta are the latest press freedom group to support The Shift’s fight against 30 government entities for public information.

In a statement published on its website on Tuesday, PEN said that it was endorsing The Shift’s campaign to defend decisions by the Data Protection Commissioner, who ordered the government and several of its agencies to answer questions put to them under the Freedom of Information Act.

It pointed out that the right to know is constitutionally safeguarded, and that the Freedom of Information Act provides procedures to make sure that even if it is unwilling, the government must be transparent. It added that refusal to provide information must happen rarely and for sound reasons connected to public interest.

“It must be rare indeed for the public interest to be better served by hiding information rather than by providing it. The 30 appeals filed against The Shift News are a clear attempt at silencing public interest reporting and deter other journalists from asking questions the government does not want answered,” it said.

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 information was in the public interest as it concerned the use of public money. However, those requests were denied by multiple entities, which argued the information requested did not exist in the form of standard documentation. An investigation by the Data Commissioner ruled the documentation does exist and must be provided.

Seven international media freedom organisations – namely the International Press Institute (IPI), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), OBC Transeuropa (OBCT), ARTICLE 19 and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, have already urged the 30 public bodies that have refused The Shift’s requests for public information to drop the “highly concerning” appeals they filed.

“This case is about a simple principle that affects all media in Malta: the right to access publicly held information on how taxpayer money is used. This is a basic right that is essential for the functioning of democracy,” they said.

The Shift has also launched a fundraiser to support its fight.

 

                           
                               
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