International Press Institute demands government ‘drop the FOI appeals’

The challenge mounted by the government to block Freedom of Information requests by The Shift is emblematic of the problematic climate for transparency, journalists’ access to information and media freedom in Malta, the International Press Institute (IPI) said in a statement.

The press freedom organisation demanded the government drop the cases. “We call on the government entities to immediately drop outstanding appeals, put an end to this absurd waste of taxpayer money, and provide the requested contacts in a timely manner,” said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen.

The Shift is facing identical, taxpayer-funded appeals from 40 different government entities against the decision of the Information Commissioner to grant the information requested.

Each entity has appealed the Commissioner’s decision at the Tribunal stage, and with each ruling by Tribunal Chair Anna Mallia in favour of The Shift, 12 so far, every government entity is now filing a second appeal in court, placing a burden on the newsroom to raise thousands in court and legal fees just to defend the right to the information.

Five appeals have already been filed in court, following the first five decisions by the Tribunal Chair in favour of The Shift. The newsroom is facing the possibility of 40 appeals in court.

“The continued efforts by the government to needlessly challenge these decisions and drag out the process is inexplicable and seriously undermines transparency and the freedom of the press. We are concerned these coordinated appeals are also aimed at draining The Shift of time and resources that could otherwise be spent carrying out public service reporting,” Griffen added.

In December 2020, The Shift filed a set of Freedom of Information requests for a list of contracts and/or payments, including direct orders, entered into between different government entities as well as ministries with Media Today co-owner Saviour Balzan or any of his private companies since 2013.

The request is focused on the use of public funds and the public interest need for transparency in the operations of the independent media with the government.

“IPI and our global network stand firmly behind our member The Shift News, its Managing Editor Caroline Muscat, and the news outlet’s vital watchdog journalism mission in Malta”, said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “The clear public interest in releasing the requested information has already been recognised not once, but twice.”

The Shift has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds to fight back and defend the public’s right to know.

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Francis Said
Francis Said
3 hours ago

Sometimes or better frequently I wonder if we are living under a Communist regime.
We have the Maltese oligarchs;
We have Government spin and non disclosure;
We have the number of people who are just above, or on and many below the poverty line;
The attitude either with us or against us attitude.
The list goes on and on.

44 minutes ago
Reply to  Francis Said

We are living in a Dystopian Mafia enclave with a population totally dependant on Mafia handouts and information, it does not bode well for the future.

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