International NGOs support The Shift’s campaign against government disregard for Freedom of Information Act

Press freedom organizations have mobilized broad support for The Shift’s campaign against the government’s failure to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act as well as its abuse deliberate taxpayer resources to cripple an independently funded newsroom.

Support from international press freedom organizations has sent the message internationally about the Maltese government’s attempts to stifle press freedom even as Prime Minister Robert Abela hesitates and hesitates to put implement real solutions to the list of press freedom problems presented in the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The crowdfunding campaign launched to raise funds for the cost of fighting 40 government agencies in court as they appeal, for the second time, decisions to provide information to The Shift, has increased its target by just three days, thanks to hundreds of donors answering The Shift’s call for help.

“We are truly surprised by the broad support we have received to fight this battle. Once again, our readers are sending a clear message that we will not back down in standing up for our rights,” the editor said. by The Shift, Caroline Muscat.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) international campaign director Rebecca Vincent shared The Shift’s campaign on Twitter, urging people to support the newsroom as it fights “a staggering 40 lawsuits brought by Maltese government entities who do not want to comply with their freedom of information obligations”.

As RSF’s international campaign director, Vincent has closely supported The Shift’s investigative work since the newsroom was established, with recent collaboration focused on implementing the recommendations of the Public Inquiry Commission. Daphne Caruana Galizia. RSF branches in Germany and Sweden also encouraged their members to support the campaign.

Susan Coughtrie, recently appointed deputy director of the British think tank Foreign Policy Centre, describe the court cases as “an appalling and cynical attack on independent media and society’s right to know”.

Several other major organizations have also shown their support online for the fight against the government’s misuse of taxpayer resources to derail an investigation in the public interest, including IFEX, a global network that promotes freedom of expression and information, and the official partner of The Shift, the International Press Institute (IPI).

The IPI also issued a statement calling on the government “to immediately drop outstanding appeals, end this senseless waste of taxpayers’ money, and deliver requested contracts in a timely manner.”

The Justice For Journalists (JFJ) Foundation has also provided on line campaign support.

Helen Darbishire, Founder and Director of Access Info Europe, shared the crowdfunding campaign, along with journalismfund.eu CEO Ides Debruyne.

This battle has been going on since December 2020, when The Shift filed a series of freedom of information requests for a list of contracts and/or payments, including direct orders, entered into between different government entities as well as departments with the co-owner of Media Today. Sauveur Balzan or one of its private companies since 2013.

The request focuses on the use of public funds and the public interest need for transparency in independent media’s dealings with government. Contracts have already been revealed whereby the Savior Balzan, while acting as editor and columnist in his newspapers and presenting several publicly funded television programs on PBS, advised ministers on how to deal with the media on controversial projects and scandals.

A year ago, the Information and Data Protection Commissioner ruled in favor of The Shift. The 40 entities challenged the Commissioner’s authority before the Appeals Tribunal.

President Anna Mallia has so far ruled on 12 such cases, confirming in each case the government’s obligation to publish the information. And as each entity lost, they appealed a second time, this time in court, placing the burden on the newsroom to raise tens of thousands to defend the public’s right to know in court.

“The support we’ve received means we’re going all the way,” said The Shift editor Caroline Muscat. “You have trusted us and you have our word that we will honor the commitment we made to you. Thanks!”

The crowdfunding campaign aimed to reach half of the estimated costs to complete the appeals. While the government is bringing 40 cases before the courts, all paid for by taxpayers’ money, the cost for us of the response amounts to €40,000, or half of our operating budget for one year.

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