‘Media Experts Committee’ journalists made €18,000 each from still-hidden ‘reforms’ report

The nine members of the ‘Media Experts Committee’, tasked with recommending added transparency and legislative reforms to increase the protection of Maltese journalists, accepted close to €18,000 each in payments from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to complete their work, according to a Freedom of Information request.

Prime Minister Robert Abela set up the committee following the conclusions of the public inquiry on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Abela handpicked all members despite calls for it to be independent.

The recommendations, which were supposed to take two months to draft, took over a year and a half to be finalised and have still not been made public, much less implemented. This is due to a non-disclosure agreement the journalists signed with the government.

The Shift reported last July that Saviour Balzan, the co-owner of Media Today, was being paid almost €1,000 a month for his participation in the ‘experts’ committee. The other journalists on the committee declined to give details on their remuneration, telling The Shift to direct questions to the Office of the Prime Minister.

The Shift has now confirmed through an FOI request that, like Balzan, the other journalists from independent newsrooms – Matthew Xuereb from The Times of Malta representing the IGM (press association), Kurt Sansone from Malta Today and an employee of Balzan, and Neil Camilleri, former editor of The Malta Independent – also accepted payments of up to €17,625 each from the Office of the Prime Minister.

FoI revealed payments to members of the Media Experts Committee.

When Balzan accepted a seat on an ‘independent’ committee, he was also paid to advise the justice ministry – the same ministry responsible for implementing such reforms.

They were meant to conclude their feedback on selected reforms by the government, heavily criticised by international press freedom organisations for being too limited in scope, within two months. Their requests for extensions meant they continued to pocket an extra €1,000 a month.

The other committee members, also selected by Abela, accepted the same payment. They were Carmen Sammut, the University’s pro-rector and a former reporter for Xandir Malta in the 1980s who also ran a think tank for the Labour Party when in opposition. Lawyer Kevin Dingli and Saviour Formosa, a criminology associate professor and a regular government appointee on sensitive projects, were also committee members.

The Chair, former Judge Michael Mallia, was a member of the Board of Judges for the Caruana Galizia public inquiry. He was paid €35,249.

Even the committee’s secretary, Frank Mercieca, the former CEO of the law courts and currently on various ‘advisory’ contracts with the government following his ‘retirement’, was paid €17,625.

The OPM refused a Freedom of Information request by The Shift for a copy of the report submitted by the committee.

According to the committee’s terms of reference, written by the OPM, Abela was bound to table the report in parliament and make it public within 10 days of receiving it. Yet the committee only presented the report to the OPM shortly after the House of Representatives rose for its three-month-long summer break.

The Council of Europe has criticised the limited reforms related to transparency and the protection of journalists in Malta since Caruana Galizia’s assassination in 2017.

Last month, Pieter Omtzigt, the Council of Europe’s Special Rapporteur who forced Malta to hold a public inquiry following the brutal killing of Caruana Galizia, called for action to “encourage” Malta to fully implement the public inquiry’s recommendations.

At the same time, independent media houses, particularly the print media, have become increasingly reliant on government advertising and handouts while posting substantial losses.

Saviour Balzan, already pocketing funds from government contracts and state-funded TV programmes on PBS, is begging the government to introduce a state subsidy scheme for the media. His efforts are being supported by The Times of Malta, The Malta Independent and the political parties and media companies. There are no details on the demands and how the system would operate.

While state subsidies are implemented in other European countries, the system can lead to abuse and further deterioration of the public’s right to know if it lacks transparency and serves to increase the traditional media’s dependency on government advertising and funding. The government’s dominance of the public sphere is already a concern noted in various studies and reports on freedom of the press in Malta.

The concerns are amplified when the government faces grave accusations of corruption.

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17 days ago

But natch… Hush money is the only term.

17 days ago

Despicable. Lackeys all.

Out of Curiosity
Out of Curiosity
17 days ago

This is how Labour seals the mouths of possible critics and those who are supposed to do a service to our democracy and general public. “Money, money, money, always sunny, in the rich men’s world.”

Jan Farrugia
Jan Farrugia
16 days ago

This is how democracy dies. Long live fascism, unfortunately.

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