Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
After a two-year legal saga in which the government has gone to all lengths to withhold information on its public relations expenditure, The Shift on Wednesday won two of the 18 cases the government brought to the Court of Appeal after it lost cases before the Information and Data Protection Commissioner as well as the Tribunal.
In January 2021 – as part of an ongoing investigation into the government’s financial influence on various media – The Shift asked a number of government entities to provide information on payments made to MediaToday and Saviour Balzan’s associated companies since 2013.
The Commissioner ruled in 40 cases that the government is obliged to provide the information to The Shift since information on the expenditure of public funds is in the public interest.
The government refused, filing 40 appeals at the Tribunal. And as the Tribunal, chaired by lawyer Anna Mallia, again ruled in favour of The Shift, the government filed one case after another – 18 so far – appealing the decisions by its own appointed bodies in Court for a second time in a desperate appeal to keep the information under wraps.
In two separate judgements by Judge Lawrence Mintoff on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal threw out the last-resort lawsuits instituted by the Malta Film Commission and Circular Economy Malta.
The win is a partial, but indicative, victory as 16 similar cases are still to be decided by the Appeals Court in the coming months and with the government deploying dozens of lawyers to defend a total of 40 cases winding their way through the system in what international organisations have said constitutes SLAPP – vexatious lawsuits intended to financially cripple a newsroom.
The Court reiterated that the original decisions in The Shift’s favour by the Data Protection Commissioner, and later confirmed by its Appeals Tribunal, had been correct.
Underscoring the importance of the FOI Act, Judge Mintoff stressed that public authorities are financed by public funds and, as such, they are obliged to be accountable and transparent.
Crucially, the rulings now provide case law that limits the government’s abuse of the FOI Act.
“The rulings throw out the argument that government entities have been using with newsrooms filing FOI requests that ‘the document does not exist’. It is now important that the government complies with the Court’s ruling and provide the information in the public interest,” said The Shift’s Managing Editor Caroline Muscat.
“This is a victory for all truly independent journalists in the country and a victory for the public’s right to know,” she added.
Ordering the two government entities – led respectively by political appointees Johann Grech and Jason Vella – to abide by the original decisions and provide the documentation, they were also ordered to pay legal expenses, which will naturally come from their public budgets.
The little information available – since most of the ministries and government entities turned down the FOI requests – showed that there had been dozens of direct orders to Saviour Balzan’s companies worth over €1 million. That is the tip of the iceberg.
The government’s effort to deploy some 80 lawyers against a single newsroom was also a clear attempt to financially cripple The Shift by forcing it into thousands of euros in court expenses associated with the court cases, while the government’s legal expenses are covered by either the state coffers or the man hours of government lawyers.
“We would like to thank our readers who supported our call for financial support to fight back against the government’s attack on press freedom, as well as lawyers Matthew Cutajar, Eve Borg Costanzi and Andrew Borg Cardona from BCGL Advocates who have supported The Shift’s defence pro bono,” Muscat concluded.
Prosit. This is OUR fight you are fighting for us. The least we can do is to keep you riding the waves.
Thank you Shift Team. We know that you’re doing this for the sake of our country. Shame on those lawyers who are defending the government to hide the scandals.
That is were the €10,000 million national debt has gone , paying the stooges to keep this gang in power.
well paid trolls.
If the damages do not get paid , what are the legal effects of this? Should future damage claims be made against the persons themselves besides the authority thy work for , with the intention that the tax payer does not pay?
My wholehearted congratulations to The Shift News for this success.
I hope that the compensations will be paid to The Shift News by the government and (although I rather doubt it) they are to learn the lessons from this unnecessary maltreatment of a small media outlet that only insists on the rule of law and puts FOIs to the govt where it is necessary and in the public interest.
PROSIT – well done. We depend ONLY on such brave people to uncover all the shit that is coming out.
Hekk Hu Go Fik Abela
Thank you shift- I hope we ALL get to see the results and see the dirty game played by the LP.
Issa pay up!!! Ibdew ħallsu għall-ispejjeż li kellhom joħorġu tax-Shift biex jiġġieldu għall-ovvju. U mbagħad kemm tippubblikaw l-informazzjoni mitluba! Grazzi li qed tiġġieldu għalina. Din ir-rebħa hi rebħa għal dejjem… daqshekk ħabi!
It’s effin obvious the government and SB have plenty to hide judging by the secrecy yet the sheep don’t believe that MToday are in the pockets if the labour party?
I’d rather say that the PL ‘sheep’ know exactly about what surrounds MToday and they are rather happy with the way it is. The MT website provides them with the playground they like to have and no matter how morally low the PL acts, they rather either don’t mind or approve of it.
I also rather believe that the PL has more people in their pockets than one might think. The system works for both sides, the high ranks and the rank and file. I refrain from using the ‘m-word’ but the similarities are becoming more obvious. Some of them are plain stupid, others should know better, the many of them have just handed themselves in to a dependency they’ll never become free of it. That’s why they always vote for ‘continuity’ with the system that is in place.
Proud of You guys!
Well done Caroline Muscat and Shift News.
We will keep supporting you financially until we see the crooks and their arse lickers like Saviour Balzan succumbing under the weight of justice.
That we continue supporting Shift financially is vital. Caroline Muscat and her team deserve this as they continue to fight for democracy in this corruption ridded island.
Keep up the fight. You’re fighting for DEMOCRACY
Grateful to THE SHIFT