The Court Registrar has been ordered to start contempt of court proceedings against Times of Malta for publishing a number of articles related to Yorgen Fenech’s communications with high-profile individuals. These exchanges happened before he was charged in connection with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.
The magistrate even called upon the police commissioner to consider potential criminal action based on her decree to ban publication of data extracted from Fenech’s phone. The decree was ordered with the intention of ensuring the integrity of evidence gathered during the criminal case and a right to a fair trial.
This is not a case of the media being above the law, as some will undoubtedly claim. We acted with responsibility and sought legal advice and we stand by the decision to publish. But the magistrate’s decree is chilling because it could have widespread ramifications on public interest reporting into alleged corruption and abuse of power. The action order could also result in the imprisonment of our journalists.
Our stories revealed the close relationship between one of Malta’s top businessmen and politicians, as well as heads of state entities, some of whom were appointed to act as watchdogs to the very businessmen they were allegedly in cahoots with.
Fenech’s lawyers objected to the fact we exposed how the former Planning Authority boss was willing to “do business” with their client. Fenech’s lawyers objected to the fact we exposed how the former Malta Gaming Authority CEO colluded with their client to try to prevent the publication of findings of an inspection revealing weak anti-money laundering controls at his own casinos. The stories exposing Rosianne Cutajar’s relationship with Fenech actually led to her stepping down. If the public does not have a right to know about these backdoor dealings, then we may as well rethink the role of the media in our society.
Equally important, our stories were directly related to people in public office who have in no way been implicated in the murder charges faced by Fenech.
Are the police expected to clamp down on journalists to reveal their sources, something they are protected at law not to divulge?
Let’s also remember that Fenech’s case is still at compilation of evidence stage and it could be years before the case goes to trial.
It is also worrying to read the decree telling the police commissioner to investigate the case, should he deem fit. Are the police expected to clamp down on journalists to reveal their sources, something they are protected at law not to divulge? Are we seriously contemplating going down the route of hounding journalists, something which ultimately led to the assassination of Caruana Galizia?
The stories we published do not impinge on issues of national security but focus on accountability and political responsibility, in other words, the public’s right to know. It is journalists’ duty to resort to do their utmost to dig up potential stories of corruption and collusion kept hidden from the public eye.
While we fully respect the courts of law, our duty is to report on matters of public interest and expose potential wrongdoing.
We are living in unprecedented times where the wheels of justice over the past years have largely been set in motion by journalists and civil society, not the institutions. Suffice to say that Robert Abela asked the police to probe the secret offshore company Macbridge following a year-long investigation by Times of Malta and Reuters.
The public would be oblivious of the spider’s web of corruption had it not been for the stories we published. Rather than seek to limit our freedom of expression, we call on the authorities to further probe Fenech’s conduct and investigate the matters we raised in our recent reports as well as others that have yet to be uncovered.
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