International NGOs sustain The Shift’s campaign against the government’s defiance of FOI law

Successful crowdfunding campaign means The Shift 'will see this through till the end'

 

Press freedom organisations have mobilised widespread support for The Shift’s campaign against the government’s failure to honour its obligations in the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act as well as its deliberate abuse of taxpayer resources to cripple an independently-funded newsroom.

The support of the international press freedom organisations has spread the message internationally on the Maltese government’s attempts to stifle press freedom even as Prime Minister Robert Abela stalls and falters on implementing any real solutions to the list of press freedom concerns outlined in the public inquiry on the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The crowdfunding campaign launched to raise funds for the cost of fighting 40 government agencies in court as they appeal, for the second time, rulings to provide information to The Shift, has raised its target within only three days, thanks to hundreds of donors responding to The Shift’s call for support.

“We are truly taken aback by the wide support we have received to see this battle through. Once again, our readers are sending out a clear message that we will not back down from defending our rights,” said The Shift’s Managing Editor Caroline Muscat.

The international campaign director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Rebecca Vincent, shared The Shift’s campaign on Twitter, urging people to support the newsroom as it fights “a staggering 40 lawsuits filed by Maltese government entities that don’t want to comply with their FOI obligations”.

In her capacity as RSF’s international campaign director, Vincent has been closely supporting The Shift’s investigative work since the newsroom’s inception, with recent collaboration focusing on the implementation of the recommendations of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry board.  RSF’s branches in Germany and Sweden also encouraged their members to support the campaign.

Susan Coughtrie, recently appointed as the deputy director of the UK-based think tank Foreign Policy Centre, described the court cases as “an appalling, cynical attack on independent media and society’s right to know”.

Several other major organisations also showed online support for the fight against the government’s abuse of taxpayer resources to derail an investigation that is in the public’s interest, including IFEX, a global network that promotes freedom of expression and information, and The Shift’s official partner, the International Press Institute (IPI).

IPI also issued a statement calling on the government “to immediately drop outstanding appeals, put an end to this absurd waste of taxpayer money, and provide the requested contracts in a timely manner”.

The Justice For Journalists (JFJ) Foundation also provided online support for the campaign.

Helen Darbishire, the founder-director of Access Info Europe, shared the crowdfunding campaign, along with the CEO of journalismfund.eu, Ides Debruyne.

This battle has been ongoing since December 2020, when 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. Contracts have already been revealed that show Saviour Balzan, while acting as editor and columnist at his newspapers and presenting several publicly-funded TV programmes on PBS, was advising ministers on how to deal with the media on controversial projects and scandals.

A year ago, the Information and Data Protection Commissioner ruled in favour of The Shift. All 40 entities challenged the Commissioner’s authority at the Appeals Tribunal.

Chair Anna Mallia has so far decided 12 of those cases, in each case confirming the government’s obligation to publish the information. And as each entity lost, they filed appeals a second time, this time in court, placing a burden on the newsroom to raise tens of thousands to defend the public’s right to know in court.

“The support we have received means we will see this through till the end,” The Shift’s Managing Editor Caroline Muscat said. “You have shown faith in us, and you have our word that we will live up to the commitment we made to you. Thank you!”

The crowdfunding campaign aimed to reach half the estimated costs of seeing the appeals through. While the government is mounting 40 cases in court, all paid by taxpayer money, the cost for us to fight back amounts to €40,000 – that’s half our operational budget for a year.

                           
                               
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Janet Wojtkow
Janet Wojtkow
1 day ago

Good to hear. Keep up the good fight!

James
James
16 hours ago

The Government has boxed itself into so many corners with its arrogant belief that it enjoys total impunity, and it should now realise that those halcyon days are consigned to history.
It still begs the question why the E.U and the FATF etc. continue to turn blind eyes to the excesses of the Government and don’t impose proper sanctions.

Albert Rossi
Albert Rossi
7 hours ago

The PN, other Parties, all justice-loving individuals and all NGOs should immediately boycott Saviour Balzan’s programs. Why give him. the pleasure to make more money from our pockets!! He is a waste of time in any case.

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