Journalism is for the public-spirited, not the faint-hearted. It’s for the curious, the introvert, the political nerd and the person prepared to cancel a Saturday evening social engagement at the last minute.

When someone becomes a journalist, they live in a pressure cooker. They come into contact with good people, bad people, authorities, crazy situations, unique experiences and, yes, politicians – who embody all of the above.

I’ve walked around Delimara with Dom Mintoff and written an autobiography for Eddie Fenech Adami. I’ve disagreed with political functionaries during the day and had dinner with them at night. Sometimes literally on the other side of the world.

Relationships are the very essence of the journalist/politico web. And learning how to navigate these is essential to avoid getting trapped by them. You must always be mindful that the person you’d shared a joke with the previous evening could be trying to browbeat or cajole you the following morning. You must also be mindful that your duty is always to your role and to the public.

It’s funny how several on social media write authoritatively about journalism without ever having operated in the field.

Funnier still, how a few who have operated in the field fail to distinguish, not because they can’t, between the ownership structure of a media organisation where the owner calls the editorial shots, procures advertising and operates other businesses, and one like the Times of Malta – I served as an editor there for nine years – where the editorial and commercial departments are distinct operations.

As an organisation, the Times of Malta should not complain about criticism because it dishes it out very freely. But that does not mean that it – nor people like me who were there – should take lying down blatant untruths that circulate because two former managing directors of Allied Newspapers, who never made an editorial decision in their life, are being accused of taking kickbacks from Keith Schembri over the purchase of machinery acquired by the printing arm of the company.

Since Schembri was allegedly handing over money to these men, a practice that supposedly started before Labour were elected to power, the accusation goes that he was able to influence the editorial decisions.

Let me make one thing clear: editors were neither aware of, nor involved in, any commercial dealings by the Allied Group – to this day I do not know what brand of print machinery was used by Progress Press – and operated in their own environment: taking their own decisions and forming their day-to-day editorial agenda.

The only editorial stance the Times of Malta assumed under my editorship – and I take the liberty to also include my predecessors and successors – was to report fairly, factually and accurately; uphold the values championed by our organisation; and paint issues as we saw them.

It’s funny how several on social media write authoritatively about journalism without ever having operated in the field- Steve Mallia

No subject or person was off-limits. Every newsworthy story that met our journalistic standards was published; I only ever declined to carry one opinion article – which, ironically, was a biting critique of Daphne Caruana Galizia – and one cartoon that I recall (Steve Bonello and I still amicably disagree on this, but my decision could not be considered remotely political).

Like others, I made mistakes. Like others, I jealously guarded the legacy of editorial independence bequeathed by the Times of Malta’s co-founder Mabel Strickland. That was written in stone and invoked by editors when any member of the board made an attempt to tread on their toes.

Were there pressures and attempts to influence editorial decisions? Too right there were – from all manner of people both inside and outside of the organisation. Could they be unpleasant? Most definitely. Did I ever yield? Absolutely not. And were there consequences? Eventually, yes, indeed there were.

I appreciate that people on the outside have little idea how the editorial side was/is separate from the rest of the company. I also appreciate there are those hellbent on harming the Times of Malta who are using these sad happenings to further their own agenda.

But the fact of the matter is that the charges brought against the former managing directors of Allied Newspapers apply only to them and (possibly) to the companies they operated.

The calamitous decision by Allied Newspapers’ board of directors not to publish the findings of an internal inquiry into this saga applies only to them and the company they represent – not anyone involved in the newspaper – and it is they who should be held accountable. 

Journalists and staff at the Times of Malta have been some of the most dedicated and loyal people I have ever known, and Malta would be a much poorer place without them and the newspaper.

And a message to the gloating St Saviour Balzan, who sanctimoniously declared that “the Times of Malta was the newspaper I never wanted to form part of”. Mate, you were never wanted there.

Steve Mallia is a former editor-in-chief of Times of Malta.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.