RSF, IPI call on government to drop ‘vexatious’ cases as The Shift wins first two court appeals

International press freedom organisations have welcomed The Shift’s winning the first two out of a total of 18 court appeals filed separately by government entities against freedom of information requests.

The appeals were filed following 40 cases being ruled in favour of The Shift by both the Information and Data Protection Commissioner and the Information and Data Protection Tribunal.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI), have both come out in support of The Shift’s two initial court victories, with the IPI describing the success as an important win against vexatious lawsuits trying to suppress FOI requests.

The Shift’s success with the first two appeal cases is indicative of the outcome expected for the remaining 16 appeals. This is due to the nature of the appeals being practically identical, simply filed from different government entities. The two cases concluded were filed by The Malta Film Commission and Circular Economy Malta.

IPI executive director Frane Maroevic described the development as “an important win against vexatious lawsuits by the government trying to suppress FOI requests”.

He added that he couldn’t agree more with the judge’s observation that public authorities are financed by public funds and, as such, they are obliged to be accountable and transparent.

The 40 freedom of information requests were filed in December 2020 and January 2021 as part of an investigation into the government’s public relations spending and its influence on local media outlets. The requests asked for information on payments made to MaltaToday and Saviour Balzan’s other media companies since 2013.

The RSF appealed for “the Maltese government to drop the remaining vexatious lawsuits contesting the media’s request for information and described the Court of Appeals’ order to disclose the information on payments requested by The Shift as “a victory, supported by RSF, for The Shift News and for press freedom in Malta.”

Last August, 11 different international NGOs had come out in support of The Shift’s fight for media freedom, also calling for the cases to be “immediately dropped”.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ARTICLE 19 Europe, Association of European Journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), IFEX, Index on Censorship, International Press Institute (IPI), OBC Transeuropa (OBCT) and PEN International all condemned the Maltese government pushback against transparency.

The government lawsuits against The Shift are considered as SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, intended specifically prevent journalists’ access to information in the public interest. In this case, to keep the government spending of taxpayer money opaque and inaccessible to the general public.

In a meeting with the Freedom of the Media representative for the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe last November, prime minister Robert Abela touted his government’s efforts in strengthening the local media sector. He noted the presentation of three draft laws in line with recommendations from a ‘committee of media experts’, as well as the supposed introduction of anti-SLAPP provisions.

Ironically, the committee and legislation were introduced without the proper public consultation, while Robert Abela’s own government harassed The Shift with the same 40 SLAPP cases.


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26 days ago

The MLP doesn’t want freedom of information. It excels in dodgy deals with it’s cronies, done behind closed doors and denies the right of the taxpayers to see all the corruption abound.

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