Marking World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday, the International Press Institute (IPI) published a message of support for “trailblazing” journalists and newsrooms who “hold the powerful to account and make our democracies stronger and our societies safer”.
Citing The Shift as one such example, it said, “The Shift News has led the way in investigating and explaining the sources and proliferation of disinformation campaigns in Malta going back to 2018”, while noting The Shift’s “exhausting freedom of information (FOI) battle with the Maltese government”.
On this #WorldPressFreedomDay, IPI stands with all of our members around the globe who continue to bring us news and information that hold the powerful to account. In Europe, we've highlighted @TheShiftNews, @e_triantafillou of @insidestory_gr & @Anna_Babinets of @Slidstvo_info👇 https://t.co/2rC40tYH3h
— Jamie Wiseman (@Jamie_Wiseman_) May 3, 2023
The Shift has won 11 of 18 appeals filed in court while simultaneously battling 40 challenges to FOI requests before the Appeals Tribunal.
In commemoration of this year’s 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, Committee to Protect Journalists president Jodie Ginsberg listed concrete methods for governments to keep journalists safe, including the creation of an enabling media environment, an end to lawfare against journalists, proper law enforcement training on working alongside the press and better use of targeted sanctions.
Press freedom organisation Article 19 said that press freedom day is a vital reminder of the work yet to be done in the field, calling particular attention to a recently published report on how courts worldwide respond to SLAPPs, vexatious lawsuits intended to silence journalists.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) highlighted efforts across Europe intended to promote journalist safety, such as the opening of a journalist safety training centre in Greece; an initiative in the Netherlands that saw the state, employers and unions come together for the introduction of a national mechanism for journalist protection; and the opening of police-journalist workshops in Germany for improved dialogue between law enforcement and the press.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also issued its annual World Press Freedom Index for 2023 on Wednesday, ranking Malta in 84th place worldwide, down six points from last year and once again labelling the media environment as “problematic”.
Last Thursday, the CPJ also issued a report which drew attention to the gap between the European Union’s ideals for media freedom and the actual reality in member states.
The CPJ specifically noted how “The gangland-style murders of prominent investigative journalists, including Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 in Malta and Ján Kuciak in 2018 in Slovakia, shook the narrative on press freedom in Brussels.”
Since then, the Maltese government has not convicted anyone with the masterminding of Caruana Galizia’s murder, and government initiatives ostensibly intended to strengthen the local media landscape have been mired in delays and conflicts of interest, with prime minister Robert Abela continually refusing to listen to experts’ advice or engage in meaningful discussion with independent media.
Arrogant politicians don’t listen to experts, unless they tell them what they like to hear.
One can observe that among populists and those who follow them, there is some ‘weariness’ to democracy and more worrying, there is an outspoken and blatant hatred to journalists as well.
There is always the societal aspect that comes into it, when people either give up or lose their moral compass and fall for the propaganda of populists, expecting that the state is to care about all and everything, the sense of responsibility gets lost along the way.
The Trump years have shown it in a very crass way how politicians are ready to incite their followers and use the media and thus journalists in person as scapegoats, More so when these targeted journalists have the courage to expose the hidden agendas and sinister machinations of the populist politicians to the public.
The way how Orban is treating critical journalists and their work in Hungary, domestic journalists and foreign correspondents as well, is going on for years. The EU has issued sanctions on Hungary, but it didn’t change the way Orban is ruling. Similar to Malta, he is undermining the independence of the judiciary. This is even worse in Poland, which also had to face sanctions by the EU. Despite all the sanctions, these governments continue to simply ignore the sanctions and seek ways to compensate the effects of these.
If the people, and by that I mean the majority of the society, doesn’t stand up to their populist regimes in order to stand behind and in solidarity with their free media, nothing is going to improve. In a world where social media outlets are dominating the public discurs and people fall gullible for all the crap that runs inside some forums, populists have an easy play to manipulate people.
One is always forced to pick a side and that is symptomatic for a polarised society. Not just in Malta, it is by now a global problem already. Unless people are thinking for themselves and stay with the serious and reliable media outlets, journalists who tell the truth will still have a hard job to do and face the hatred by those who prefer to be lied to.