Forty separate branches of the government are attacking another branch of the government in order to attack a news outlet, and you have the pleasure of paying for it.
Yes, it’s Groundhog Day in the Maltese courts again, but the only shadow ol’ Wiarton Willie wants to see is a shadow cast over lucrative payouts made with public funds.
The goal is to eliminate The Shift by crippling it financially. And we’ll get to that in a minute.
If you’re new to the island, you might be surprised to learn shenanigans like this have happened before.
It reminds me of a time in 2016 when the disgraced former prime minister sued his own government over a corrupt property deal that his own ministry was responsible for.
Daphne Caruana Galizia summed it up far more succinctly than I’m able to do. She wrote, “Joseph Muscat the MP is suing the government, as represented by Joseph Muscat the prime minister, because Joseph Muscat the Minister for Lands transferred property he shouldn’t have to Josielle and Marco Gaffarena.”
Muscat as plaintiff and prime minister would be assisted by the Attorney General, the government’s lawyer.
The defendants, the Lands Commissioner and the Registrar of Lands, would be assisted by the lawyer for their department. Yes, you guessed it, the Attorney General who represents government departments anytime they land in court.
The two departments being sued fell under the responsibility of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), headed by Joseph Muscat, who was also the plaintiff.
The result? An utterly absurd situation where witnesses called by the plaintiff would be examined by the plaintiff’s lawyer (the Attorney General) and then cross-examined by their own assisting lawyer (the Attorney General).
You couldn’t make it up if you were Franz Kafka. But wait, the irony thickens.
When the court finally ordered a stop to the dodgy property deal due to collusion between the Land Department (which fell under the responsibility of the prime minister) and Gaffarena, Muscat’s OPM hailed it as “the first step by the prime minister to continue to protect the people’s interests in this case”.
That dodgy deal was revealed by none other than The Shift’s founder Caroline Muscat when she was the Times of Malta’s news editor. It was the first in a long line of scandals that would make Joseph Muscat a European pariah.
This is a government willing to sue itself to hide how it’s spending your money.
Now they’re fighting their own Data Commissioner in an effort to eliminate The Shift once and for all.
In case you haven’t heard, The Shift filed Freedom of Information requests to find out how much money the government gave the co-owner of Media Today Saviour Balzan’s various companies since Labour came to power in 2013.
The government refused to reveal the details of the payments, and the government lost. The Data Protection Commissioner ordered all ministries and authorities to hand over the requested information.
It’s clearly in the public’s interest to know exactly how much money was shovelled to a man who claims to have established ‘the only independent newsroom’ in Malta while simultaneously offering consulting services to government ministers who then appear in his ‘independent’ publications and on his publicly funded TV shows.
What sort of appearances?
His “controlled” interview with Panama Papers minister Konrad Mizzi about the ‘sinister’ Electrogas power station project comes to mind. And who could forget Michelle Muscat claiming she was more sorry to hear about the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia than the journalist’s own family because “now I will have to live with her lies”.
But I digress.
The government, desperate to hide these payouts, appealed the decision by attacking the Commissioner’s powers to issue such an order — but they didn’t just appeal once. Forty different government entities filed 40 nearly identical appeals, which meant The Shift had to fight 40 separate legal battles.
Appeals Tribunal Chair Anna Mallia has ruled on 12 of these cases so far, all in favour of the Data Commissioner, The Shift, and the public’s right to know.
But the saga didn’t end there.
These same government entities are now appealing the appeals. They’re going to court now, one by one, to repeat the same tired arguments rejected by both the Data Protection Commissioner and the Appeals Tribunal.
And why not? They’ve got your money to burn.
The Shift is a small but tenacious newsroom funded by public donations, and that’s important. In a country as corrupt as Malta, accepting government money, whether through consultancy fees or advertising, is compromising.
Our investigations have clearly struck a nerve, as have the direct orders, dodgy deals, and lucrative jobs for family and friends that we reveal every single day. Eliminate The Shift and one of Malta’s last remaining pillars of independent journalism dies — and they go back in the shadows.
The government knows we don’t have €16,000 to pay the court registry fees in this case, or to provide for the costs if they win. They’ve seen our financial statements — and you can, too. We publish them so you know exactly where your donations are going.
You can help us fight back by joining our crowdfunding campaign. Every euro counts.
You have a right to know how much of your tax money went to those making hay while you struggle to make ends meet.