An article raising awareness on blood donation had to be shelved after the hospital authorities demanded to vet it prior to publication on Times of Malta.

The article was meant to focus on the blood product known as platelets, which, unlike red cells that can be stored for some 40 days, need to be used within five days in the case of patients, such as those suffering from leukaemia.

Times of Malta planned to speak to a consultant haematologist and a former receiver of platelets in a bid to raise awareness about the need of donors throughout the year.

When it contacted Mater Dei Hospital it was asked to submit the questions in advance in both Maltese and English.

Asked whether this was a new procedure, Times of Malta was told the Mater Dei Hospital data protection officer needed the “template core questions intended to be presented before granting approval”.

The Times of Malta refused such a condition

Simon Caruana, writing on behalf of data protection officer Sharon Young added that the “final document prior to publication must be vetted by the office of the CEO”.

In line with its editorial policy, Times of Malta refused such a condition and was therefore left with no option but to stop publication of the planned article.

Such requests aimed at controlling the content of a newspaper article were not defensible by Maltese law, Michael Zammit Maempel, a lawyer specialising in data protection, said.

By law, it is up to Data Protection Commissioner to issue guidelines in areas not covered by the law, such as in the case of CCTV footage.

The Commissioner has, in fact, issued guidelines on this and how long the film can be retained. He has also issued a code on media coverage in classrooms in a bid to protect children.

Only the Data Protection Commissioner could issue such regulations and no public officer could “jump the gun” by preventing journalists from asking specific questions or have their interview controlled, Dr Zammit Maempel said.

Just as in libel cases, if a journalist violated any provision of the Data Provision Act and an article was published, the newspaper would be held liable, he continued.

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