More than one month after the Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM) flagged the issue of access to government spokespersons by the press, the Office of the Prime Minister remains silent.
The mobile numbers of government spokespersons are no longer available on the directory featured on the government’s website, limiting journalists’ access to the communications aides of different ministers and the Office of the Prime Minister to emails. Questions sent by email limit journalists’ ability to press for answers in the public interest. In addition, they are regularly ignored or answers delayed.
The Shift sent questions – by email – to the OPM’s Head of Communications Edward Montebello when reporting the decision by Robert Abela’s administration. No answers were received.
Montebello, who served as Labour TV’s Head of News up till March, is leading the government’s communications team. He was recruited on a ‘person of trust’ basis.
Mobile numbers of ministry spokespersons (who mediate between ministers and the press) were always available online prior to this legislature. Abela has earned a reputation for avoiding questions by the press, and now an additional layer of obstruction that stretches across ministries has been added.
Asked for a reaction to this new development, the (IGM) said the association had raised the issue with Montebello during a meeting on 31 May, shortly after the general elections. Montebello “promised to look into it”, IGM president Matthew Xuereb told this newsroom. Yet more than one month later, nothing has changed.
“The IGM will continue applying the necessary pressure for the situation to return to what it was before the elections when communication coordinators had their mobile phone numbers listed online,” Xuereb said.
A report by the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) in 2020 notes Maltese journalists had already highlighted the difficulty they face when trying to obtain an official comment, saying they can “hardly access” the government.
Recommendations resulting from the public inquiry on the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia also included the need to create an enabling environment for independent journalism.