The Shift’s FOI battle recorded as ‘violation’ by press freedom watchdog
The unprecedented Freedom of Information (FOI) battle involving 30 government entities that The Shift is currently facing has been registered as a “violation” by European press freedom watchdog Mapping Media Freedom.
This is the second violation in connection with the protest recorded in a few weeks by the platform, which tracks violations, threats and risks faced by media professionals.
The breach is recorded as an incident related to censorship and blocked access to information.
— Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) (@MediaFreedomEU) February 4, 2022
In January, 30 different government departments and entities appealed a decision by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner ordering the disclosure of public expenditure information requested as part of an access request. to information submitted by The Shift.
International media freedom organizations said the coordinated attempt to block disclosure on a matter of public interest had serious implications for transparency and media freedom and was emblematic of wider challenges for journalists trying to access public information in Malta.
The appeals stem from FOI requests that The Shift’s editor, Caroline Muscat, sent to various public bodies seeking documents on possible contracts and payments made by public entities to Malta Today co-owner Savior Balzan, and its business entities.
The entities, including the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Gozo, Identity Malta and Projects Malta (Malta Strategic Partnership Projects), responded by filing virtually identical appeals against the decision to release the information.
The information requested by The Shift is of public interest and relates to the administration of public funds.
As Data Commissioner Ian Deguara pointed out in defense of his decision, the FOI Act is “designed to ensure the greatest possible transparency and promote the accountability of public authorities, allowing as far as possible the exercise of the right to access to documents held by public authorities.
“The fact that people and companies are paid with public funds certainly leads to the expectation that the public will know where the money went, to whom and why,” he said.
In light of this fight, The Shift has launched a GoGetFunding fundraising campaign, titled ‘Our fight for the right to access public information’, for which it has raised almost €9,000 at the time of writing.
Sixty-nine threats to press freedom have been recorded in Malta over the past seven years.