Updated Saturday 7.15pm

Jason Micallef is facing accusations of instigating hate after he claimed a journalist was in “collusion with the establishment” and then published photographs of chat conversations on her laptop taken surreptitiously during Joseph Muscat's recent press conference.

Micallef, a government official, claimed that a Newsbook journalist “was given questions” to ask Muscat by former Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi and members of NGO Repubblika.

He made that claim during Andrew Azzopardi’s programme on Church Radio RTK103 on Saturday morning.

His comments were panned by NGOs and media representatives, with the Institute of Journalists urging him to stop instigating hate towards journalists, warning that it was a very slippery slope.

"The latest incident involving Jason Micallef is of great concern on several counts, including the way he purposely singled out a journalist to place her in the 'establishment' pigeonhole," the IĠM said in a statement.

Micallef failed to provide a copy of these images when asked to do so, and Agius said none of the people mentioned by Micallef had forwarded any questions to be asked by her during the press conference, the institute said.

"Irrespective of the merits, the IGM is seriously concerned about how photographs of the journalist’s chats on her laptop were taken stealthily during an official press conference. Do journalists have to watch their backs when they’re working?"

The IĠM said Saturday's attack builds on those that took place earlier in the week when the Prime Minister accused some journalists and their media houses of working for the so-called 'establishment', clearly implying they are enemies of the State and of the people."

'We are holding you responsible'

The Prime Minister should lead by example.

"It is very dangerous and could have serious consequences, for which the IĠM is holding the Prime Minister and the government responsible. Journalists should be given the liberty to do their job, and speak to as many people and sources as they need during their duties. Speaking to people is a large part of what journalists do and sources must be afforded full protection."

Micallef, a former general secretary of the Labour Party who chairs the Valletta Cultural Agency and Ta' Qali National Park project, was speaking about the unnamed "establishment" that Labour has targeted in the past weeks. 

At that point he whipped out printed photographs he claimed to have received of chats on the laptop being used by Newsbook journalist Monique Agius.

He claimed that these photographs showed how Agius received the questions she had to ask Joseph Muscat from Repubblika lawyer Jason Azzopardi, its Honorary President Robert Aquilina and member Alessandra Dee Crespo.

Micallef said that "the establishment journalist" was given these questions while Muscat was addressing a news conference.

He said that he was given the photos by a journalist at the event who took them. 

The radio host backed the journalist, noting that it is journalists' job to speak to many people while doing their work.

But Micallef - who previously chaired Labour's media arm ONE - kept insisting and raising his voice that this was “collusion with the establishment”.

Stop the intimidation - Repubblika

The NGO Repubblika strongly condemned Micallef’s actions saying it has been monitoring the political rhetoric by the government and the prime minister since the magisterial inquiry on the hospitals was concluded.

“Abela and persons connected with him have adopted intimidating attitudes and behaviour against the media, singling out individual journalists, particularly women journalists, and inciting public scorn in their regard.”

Repubblika demanded that immediate action is taken to ensure that journalists’ privacy is respected, allowing journalists to carry out their work serenely and without intimidation from the government or any other source.

MEP David Casa said the government's rhetoric against journalists is dangerous.

"They're turning journalists into enemies of the state, and they're sending spies to inspect their mobile phones. These tactics were used against Daphne and reflect the panic that has gripped the government," the MEP said in a social media post.

Correction May 11, 2024: A previous version stated that Micallef chairs ONE. He was replaced in late 2022.

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