Five years and still here

The Shift is still online after five years.

I don’t know anyone who would have predicted that in the dark days of December 2017.

My friends certainly didn’t. They thought I was wasting my time when I started contributing columns in 2018.

“It’s irrelevant,” they told me. “No one reads it.” Well, that sure isn’t the case now.

You know who reads The Shift with a creeping sense of dread every morning? Corrupt politicians. Rapacious developers. Despoilers of ODZ land. And foreign oligarchs who are keen to use Malta for their own sordid ends.

They live with the uneasy knowledge that they’re going to open the website one morning and find their own dirty deeds exposed.

As a columnist, I’m mostly isolated from the threats and intimidation faced by The Shift’s crack team of investigative journalists. At worst, my satire resulted in furious phone calls from a minister’s aide who I’m told was threatening to sue for libel because my description of his boss’ foolish behaviour hit uncomfortably close to home.

It’s a far cry from the bile spewed at The Shift’s founder and managing editor Caroline Muscat. I still remember how uncomfortable it was to go for dinner with her at a quiet seaside restaurant where hostile stares and pointing fingers greeted our entrance.

And I don’t think I need to explain the tightness I felt in my stomach when we got in her car and I watched her put the key in the ignition.

I’m far from the daily stress of The Shift’s newsroom, but I do get hauled in to cover for Caroline once or twice a year when she’s abroad.

“Don’t worry,” she always says. “We have lots of stories scheduled. It’s going to be a quiet week.”

It’s never a quiet week. In fact, there’s pretty much always a crisis.

When I ran the newsroom in late February 2022, war had just broken out in Ukraine and Malta was doing its best to play both sides. We spent days sifting through sanctions lists, trying to track down Russian cash-for-passport citizens who could be using their purchase to slip through the tightening global net.

It’s incredible what a small group of dedicated people can do on a budget composed solely of donations and grants.

Were you angry to find out Robert Abela gave public land to the sham American University run by Joseph Muscat’s Jordanian construction pal for a ludicrous 47 cents per square metre? We got our hands on the draft deed and the Masterplan and made the story public.

Did it make you mad to learn three high-ranking officials from the Gozo Ministry were charged with causing the death of a man who was sent to do illegal work on a public convenience? The Shift broke that story after the ministry tried to cover it up.

Were you outraged to learn of the ordeal a talented young woman at the national orchestra when through when she was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace? You know, the sexual abuse Culture Minister Owen Bonnici did nothing to stop despite being fully informed? We broke that story, too, and the public attention ensured the case is now in court.

Were you disgusted to see the government play games with your health to benefit friends of friends? Our investigative journalists exposed the tainted €24 million tender that the Foundation for Medical Services carefully designed to channel more public funds to Technoline, a company at the heart of the corrupt public hospitals deal orchestrated by Konrad Mizzi.

Speaking of Joseph Muscat’s star minister, The Shift also revealed that it was the disgraced former prime minister himself who ordered the Malta Tourism Authority to hand Mizzi a €90,000 consulting contract after being forced out of Cabinet.

We also uncovered the price you paid for Joseph Muscat’s golden handshake: €120,000 that the  former leader tried to ensure remained a ‘state secret’.

We exposed Prime Minister Abela’s dodgy Zejtun ODZ land deal, Minister Anton Refalo’s alleged theft of protected artifacts, developer Joseph Portelli’s lavish Labour Party pre-election fundraiser, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard’s shameless gouging of public entities as a freshly-graduated lawyer, and so much more.

Breaking stories like these creates enemies. The government has gone to ridiculous lengths to shut down what has become a persistent thorn in its side.

When the European Union finally started taking a closer look at SLAPP suits, Malta found a creative new way to accomplish the same goal. They did it by having 40 separate branches of the government attack another branch of the government in order to attack The Shift, all while sticking taxpayers with the bill.

That’s a lot of effort to hide how much money they’ve given to Saviour Balzan, Labour’s favourite propagandist.

And what about you, our readers?

I want you to know The Shift isn’t just shining a light into the country’s darkest corners. We’re also shining a positive light on beleaguered citizens like you who are fighting against the descent into criminality that began in 2013.

When our founder and managing editor Caroline Muscat is asked to deliver the keynote speech at the VDZ Publishers’ Summit in Berlin, it’s because they know Malta is at the forefront of the fight for democracy and press freedom in Europe.

When Caroline won the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Award for Independence for her work on corruption and for refusing to back down “despite massive pressure”, that was a win for Malta — even if the government chose to ignore it.

When the US Embassy chose Caroline as the recipient of their Woman of Courage award on World Press Freedom Day, it was an acknowledgement that the world’s most powerful country is aware that the Maltese are still a fighting people willing to stand strong in the face of seemingly hopeless odds, even after one of your own was brutally murdered for it.

This international recognition reflects on you, our tireless supporters.

Independent investigative journalism holds the powerful accountable — but it only works when journalism is truly independent. That means no government funding or advertising and no payouts from big business.

Even with a bare-bones operating budget, it isn’t easy to keep a small newsroom like The Shift alive. We’ve been able to do these things because our readers stood behind us.

You can sleep soundly knowing we are always watching. And we’d sleep a bit more soundly at night, too, knowing we had enough funds to keep the dream alive.

Please support The Shift with a donation. We’re grateful for every contribution.


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saviour mamo
saviour mamo
21 days ago

We will not let you alone. We can’t afford another state killing.

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