Tangible change takes time. It often requires patience and resilience, and it is rarely a smooth journey. The Shift celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, and the project has not only defied expectations but has also become a vehicle that pushes tirelessly for change.
The Shift was founded three weeks after the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as an unequivocal and powerful message to those who assassinated her that her work would continue and that investigative journalism would not be silenced or intimidated.
People were sceptical. When columnist Ryan Murdock first asked his Maltese friends what they thought of The Shift in the spring of 2018, a few months after our launch, they said, “It’s irrelevant. No one reads it.”
I was called “mad” and was told that a community-funded model would never survive in Malta.
Not only would we go on to survive, but The Shift has attracted a growing community of readers who contribute to upholding the power of investigative journalism through our stories and investigations — and much has happened thanks to those stories.
They said we’re ‘irrelevant’
Our most recent story about sexual harassment in The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra resulted in the indictment of the perpetrator, as well as that of the orchestra’s CEO for tampering with evidence. Musicians, administrators, and members of the orchestra’s management demanded action in the wake of The Shift’s reports, calling for the sacking of CEO Sigmund Mifsud for “covering up” the accusations when he had been made aware of them months earlier by the victim herself.
In reply to a letter sent by PN MEP David Casa, the European Commission said that it was taking the publication of the security of supply agreement between the Maltese government and SOCAR Trading very seriously. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation acquired this document through a Freedom of Information request published by The Shift in September.
Shortly after The Shift revealed that Malta’s National Museum of Natural History had been transformed into an open-air restaurant without a permit and with no call for tender, Heritage Malta officials gave immediate directions for the restaurant to close and publicly stated that it was an “experiment” to find out whether it made commercial sense for one of Malta’s most elegant palaces in Mdina to be used commercially.
An investigation by the Standards Commissioner following a complaint filed by NGO Repubblika, which was based on findings by The Shift, found that adverts published on behalf of 18 Cabinet members had breached ethical guidelines the commissioner had drawn up.
In July, The Shift also revealed a serious breach of procurement rules and blatant abuse of taxpayer’s funds by then Transport Minister Ian Borg when he split a €420,000 bill from TEC into 20 direct orders to avoid issuing a tender. Independent candidate Arnold Cassola asked the Standards Commissioner to investigate Borg’s expenditure, and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation has asked the National Audit Office to do the same.
They said ‘no one reads them’
Those investigations produced results. But the best gauge of the relevance and impact of our work is the lengths to which the government goes to block our access to information that is in the public interest.
In January, several government entities filed multiple lawsuits against us in order to deny us information in their latest attempt to cripple The Shift financially. It costs us €40,000 to fight back against the 40-plus cases, in which the government deployed some 80 lawyers against a single newsroom. There would be no need for this if our work did not matter.
The good news is that we’re winning — but the costs threaten to shut us down. That’s why we’re launching our fifth-anniversary crowdfunding campaign.
The quality journalism and in-depth investigations we do cost money. They take up a lot of our time, and we often need to involve professionals such as lawyers to interpret legal documents, and accountants to unravel financial intricacies.
We’re fighting back against this abuse of a law that is supposed to protect the public’s right to know, and we will continue to fight thanks to the support our readers have always shown us. Your support is critical to our independence.
We’ve come this far despite the odds, and our work has brought about positive change. We continue to be supported by a formidable network of international press freedom organisations, and we remain a media partner of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and a member of the International Press Institute (IPI).
Still, we need to do more. We must do more. And I am confident that the support we receive will ensure that we do not need to succumb to pressure from the government. We fight for you and nobody else.
Let’s do this. Together.