A judge has ordered the Malta Film Commission to reveal how much it paid British comedian and author David Walliams for the Malta Film Awards in January 2022.
The judgment confirms earlier decisions by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner and the Data Protection Tribunal.
Walliams hosted the elaborate black-tie event that was heavily marketed on billboards across the country and online.
Industry insiders suggested the event blasted through its €400,000 budget, with some estimating it cost well over €1.3 million. However, details of how the public funds had been spent remained under wraps.
The commission had denied a Times of Malta Freedom of Information request for details on the cost of the glitzy Awards.
It also denied a Freedom of Information request filed by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation specifically requesting payments made to Walliams. In the rejection letter, the film commission had cited a legal clause that the requested documents were subject to professional privilege and that their disclosure would amount to breach of confidence.
The foundation took the matter to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner (IDPC) which ruled in its favour, leading to an appeal by the commission before the Data Protection Tribunal, which upheld the IDPC ruling.
The IDPC said that the confidentiality clause in the agreement with Walliams could not be used to prevent disclosure of the amount he was paid and the Malta Film Commission had not attempted to explain or substantiate its claim that disclosing the requested invoice would prejudice its affairs or those of Walliams.
Following the Data Protection Commissioner’s ruling, the Film Commission took the matter to the civil court, asking it to annul the ruling and revoke the IDPC decision. In a judgment handed down by Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff on Wednesday, the court rejected the film commission’s second appeal, ordering the commission to release the information.
The court ruled that the information requested was from a public authority over a contract that it had signed out of its own free will with a service provider. It noted that the law provides for certain exceptions but not when the public authority would have bound itself to confidentiality.
“Certainly, to uphold the principles of accountability and transparency, it is duty-bound to reveal and explain how public funds are being spent. The information being requested is related to payments to a person which it chose directly, without a public call,” the judge noted.
While observing that the information was of a confidential nature, this did not mean that its publication was going to adversely affect a third party.
Mr Justice Mintoff agreed with the IDPC that the confidentiality clause in the agreement with Walliams could not be used to prevent disclosure of the amount he was paid.
The judge threw out the film commission’s appeal and ruled that it must hand over an electronic copy of the invoices it received in connection with Walliams’ hosting of the Malta Film Awards in January 2022 to the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.
The Malta Film Commission and its head, Commissioner Johann Grech, have been repeatedly in the headlines over the past year, especially after Times of Malta revealed that between 2019 and 2023, the government awarded €143 million in taxpayers’ money to 54 films and television series.
While the Maltese producers spend almost all the film’s budget directly in the Maltese economy, foreign production houses spent nearly half of their budget abroad and still got refunded the 40% for it, leading local film-makers to question to what extent the country benefited from handing out such a huge rebate.
The National Audit Office is investigating the Malta Film Commission’s spending on a 40 per cent cashback scheme.
The probe was launched in response to a letter from opposition MPs Darren Carabott, David Agius, Graham Bencini, and Julie Zahra asking the Auditor General to investigate the spending.