Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi has issued just four calls to the press via the government’s Department of Information this year, despite attending 38 events, an exercise by The Sunday Times of Malta has found.
Of these four, one of the calls did not state whether Dr Mizzi would be attending, saying simply that the Tourism Ministry would be holding a press conference.
Another included a note to the media houses informing them that journalists would only be allowed to sit in for the first part of the event. No reason for this was given.
While Dr Mizzi has repeatedly failed to issue such calls using the standard procedures, both the Labour Party’s TV channel (ONE) and the national broadcaster (TVM) always secured an invite. On several occasions, the minister has also invited TVM to his office to make announcements or give comments.
It is standard practice for all Cabinet members to issue such calls to the press whenever they attend an event, with a list of all their activities for the next day being sent to all media houses daily.
According to the Ministerial Code of Ethics, ministers have to inform the public and the media of their activities “on a regular basis and in an organised manner”. Prior to any activity, interview or statement, they must also seek approval from the Office of the Prime Minister.
Contacted about the matter earlier this week, a spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister backed Dr Mizzi’s habit, saying that the ministries sometimes deemed certain events to be of less importance and so did not invite all the media houses.
Only TVM and ONE invited to the events
Through its exercise, however, The Sunday Times of Malta found that the minister failed to invite the independent media to the vast majority of events, including some where announcements of public interest were made. This included the launch of new routes by Air Malta, collaborations between the airline and Ryanair, the unveiling of new measures as well as launches for festivals and other public events.
In all these instances, only TVM and ONE were invited to cover the events.
Throughout the entire year there were also cases when other government entities, such as the Malta Tourism Authority, issued calls for a press conference or event but made no mention of Dr Mizzi attending.
This was also the case with all Air Malta events, with the airline inviting the press to an event but failing to mention that the minister would be in attendance.
On the other hand, the rest of the ministers have religiously issued press calls, inviting all the media to cover their events, even when these were organised by third parties.
Earlier this week, the minister’s practice came under fire after it emerged that he had once again invited ONE and TVM to an event and then proceeded to upload short clips of himself being interviewed by reporters from the two stations on his social media platforms. This drew condemnation from the Institute of Maltese Journalists, which said the minister’s “hide-and-seek tactics” were unacceptable and accused him of “deliberate discriminatory tactics” aimed at shielding him from difficult questions about his alleged misconduct.
Media houses can say they have a right to be invited to these events, given that Article 1 of the Constitution says Malta is founded on respect for fundamental rights and freedom of the individual and that the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly held the public has a right to be informed by the press of matters of public interest.
Questions sent to Dr Mizzi’s office in July and again this week remained unanswered. When questioned about the institute’s criticism, a spokesman for Dr Mizzi simply said that the event in question “was not a press conference but a minor feature”.
Dr Mizzi made headlines again recently after a joint investigation between the Times of Malta and Reuters revealed that one of the Electrogas power station shareholders, Yorgen Fenech, owned a company called 17 Black, which the minister’s own financial advisers named as a ‘target client’ of Dr Mizzi’s offshore company.
The minister has called the news part of a “coordinated attack” against him.
The four calls
So far this year, there were only four DOI press calls for an event that was attended by the Tourism Minister. The first was for the signing of an agreement between Air Malta and the General Workers Union on January 9.
This was the only call issued by the DOI for an event that involved Air Malta as all other events by the airline since have been issued by its own communications office and not by the government.
A call for the signing of a similar agreement between Air Malta and pilots some weeks later, on January 26, was in fact not issued by the DOI but by the airline.
The second call was for an event on March 15, where an invite for a press conference on the English Language teaching industry was issued that same day by the DOI. A third call was issued on September 27 for an event where plans for the regeneration of Paceville were unveiled. The media were only invited to the first part of the event.
The fourth press call from the DOI was sent on October 11, when the new ITS campus was unveiled. Despite being issued by the government, the call did not follow the standard pattern of highlighting which minister would be attending but simply stated the name of the ministry.
Calls issued by other entities
It has also emerged that Dr Mizzi attended several events for which the press were invited by other entities, including Air Malta, Malta Tourism Authority, Malta International Airport and Ryanair.
In these cases, while the press was invited to cover the event, no mention of Dr Mizzi was made, with journalists only finding out about his presence once the press conference or event had started.
This was the case, for instance, with the announcement on tourism results on February 1 as well as another on the introduction of new routes by Air Malta on February 19. Similarly, a call to the press was issued by Ryanair on September 11 when it unveiled new routes but no mention of Dr Mizzi was made in this.
In another instance, Dr Mizzi was one of the speakers at the Mediterranean Tourism Forum, together with the President, the Transport Minister, the Finance Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, Citizenship and Simplification of Administrative Processes. However, while these were all listed in the DOI press call for the event, Dr Mizzi was not, despite his name also being on the official programme.
TVM and ONE
While press calls from the DOI for Dr Mizzi’s events were scarce, both TVM and ONE were found to have covered these extensively, often being the only two stations invited.
This was the case for the launch of various events, including the annual festival Lost and Found, the Summer Daze festival as well as a number of press conferences, including that on the purchasing of new aircraft by Air Malta, the inauguration of a parking area in Marsaxlokk and the unveiling of the Balluta sandy beach.
Dr Mizzi also gave exclusive comments to the channels on a number of issues, including the launch of a new in-flight menu for Air Malta and the setting up of Malta Air Travel.
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