Malta: IPI supports Shift News in unprecedented freedom of information battle
The International Press Institute (IPI) and its global network stand behind our member The Shift News as it faces an unprecedented legal battle with the Maltese government over freedom of information requests it submitted linked to expenditure of public contracts.
IPI sees the case as emblematic of the problematic climate for transparency, journalists’ access to information and media freedom in Malta. We support The Shift in its public interest mission to scrutinize power and provide citizens with information about the use of taxpayer money.
The Shift, a small independent news outlet, today launched a fresh crowdfunding campaign to help pay the legal costs of fighting the FOI cases in court. The estimated expense of challenging all the cases is €40,000 – half of its operational budget for one year.
To safeguard its independence, the online newspaper is the only media outlet in Malta which refuses to accept funding or advertising contacts from the government or any political party and is instead run on a community-funded model.
The Shift is facing identical, taxpayer-funded appeals from 40 different government entities against the decision of the Maltese Information and Data Protection Commissioner to side with the media outlet and grant it access to contracts and payments made by public entities to Malta Today co-owner Saviour Balzan and his commercial entities.
The Appeals Tribunal has so far ruled on 12 of those cases, siding with The Shift and the Commissioner in all of them. Five state entities have so far filed secondary appeal lawsuits. Dozens more government bodies could eventually end up making additional appeals, initiating yet more time consuming and costly legal battles.
IPI and our global network stand firmly behind our member The Shift News, its Managing Editor Caroline Muscat, and the news outlet’s vital watchdog journalism mission in Malta”, said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “The clear public interest in releasing the requested information has already been recognized not once, but twice.
The continued efforts by the government to needlessly challenge these decisions drag out the process is inexplicable and seriously undermines transparency and the freedom of the press. We are concerned these coordinated appeals are also aimed at draining The Shift of time and resources that could otherwise be spent carrying out public service reporting.
We call on the government entities to immediately drop outstanding appeals, put an end to this absurd waste of taxpayer money, and provide the requested contacts in a timely manner. IPI also calls on its members around the world to join us in expressing support for The Shift and to consider donating to its crowdfunding campaign.
IPI is currently working with partner organizations to secure funding to help support The Shift’s legal defence and hopes to make further announcements in the coming days.
This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries, and Ukraine. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.